The Ledger - May 7 2004

Bowie A Crowd-Pleaser

By Bill Dean

Long a chameleon of musical styles and substance, David Bowie delivered one of his most honest personas Wednesday night - himself, exactly what the audience wanted.

In the 1970s, the English Bowie's music and image were all over the place: Ziggy, Aladdin Sane, Diamond Dog, Thin White Duke and others ran the gamut.

In front of a sold-out crowd at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, however, his current life projected brightly and easily: 57-year-old, New York based rocker, still hip, but relaxed and happy to please.

Backed by a six-piece band that included longtime guitarist Earl Slick (heard on the 1975 hit "Golden Years"), Bowie was equal parts presenter of newer material and earnest crowdpleaser; a man who wore his decades as rock groundbreaker as easily as the street-cool overcoat he sauntered in onstage.

Despite a silver-streaked mane that could've been at home on Andy Warhol, Bowie grinned and romped through an opening "Rebel, Rebel" - a sign that Bowie's door was open to such classic material.

And he peppered his 2 1/2-hour show with enough of such - "China Girl," "Fame," "Under Pressure" and "Ashes to Ashes," among them - that the crowd of 2,504 welcomed others from new albums with similar aplomb.

About 30 minutes in, the singer said "good night," feigning the show was over. "Well, if I wanted to, I could," he said, making a face and sticking out his tongue.

The playful tease turned into a conspiratorial compliment: "And you could sing along if you wanted to," Bowie said. "You're professional people, not amateurs. And only professionals sing this one."

The song was "All The Young Dudes," a Bowie tune that in 1972 became Mott the Hoople's only Top 10 hit. It was one of two sung Wednesday that became better known for their covers by others. The other was "The Man Who Sold the World," a 1970 song covered by Nirvana in 1994.

Both showed the magnanimous side of a gracefully aging rocker, one as appreciative of reactions from fellow musicians as he is an audience.

Other musicians are also, no doubt, appreciative of him: Bowie delivered a rousing version of "Cactus," a song by The Pixies that Bowie covered on his 2002 album, "Heathen."

This was the Bowie of Wednesday night, one who seemed as down-to-earth as the black jeans and black Converse sneakers he wore all night. And it was also the Bowie who showed remarkable energy given his status as art-rock elder statesman.

Along with two back-to-back songs from "Heathen" ("Sunday" and the title cut), Bowie saluted his own, newer material with songs from last year's album, "Reality," including "Looking for Water," in which he hung his arms in the air like a spider from Mars.

His most energetic performances of the night came during the four-song encore - with songs all from 1972's "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust."

"Hang on to Yourself" rocked the house with glam-rock abandon, while the slower "Five Years" fueled the more-than-fitting finale: "Suffragette City" and "Ziggy Stardust."

For both, Bowie stood on a small part of the stage that stuck out in the crowd and reveled in getting close to his audience - and giving as good as he got.