The Kansas City Star - 12th May 2004

Just for one night - No 'could be' about it: Bowie, band are heroes without being nostalgic

By Timothy Finn

About halfway through his show Monday night at Starlight Theatre, a woman in the front row handed a white washcloth to David Bowie. She wanted a souvenir.

After confirming her request and pausing for a moment of incredulity, he obliged, wiping his sweaty face and then tossing the cloth back to the woman. "That's the singularly most ridiculous thing I've done on this tour," he said.

Maybe so, but on a night loaded with waves of great music, bursts of nostalgia and bits of comic relief, a little episode of absurdist adulation fit right in. Technically Bowie is out in support of his latest album, "Reality," and the one before that, "Heathen."

But the Reality Tour is about something larger than his most recent music. It's really about one of the most colorful and provocative artists/entertainers in rock music and how, unlike most of his peers, he and his music have managed to remain relevant and uncompromisingly hip for five decades.

Monday's show before a near-sellout crowd lasted nearly 150 minutes and covered 27 songs and 35 years of material. The fans dutifully appreciated the newer or latter-day stuff, even when the mood started to get a little tedious around the edges (as in the "Sunday"/"Heathen" progression in the middle of the show).

But that was the only time a sense of restlessness settled in. For most of the show, Bowie and his hard, taut and scalpel-sharp six-piece band kept the crowd standing, singing along and dancing (or trying to).

Bowie came out in a fringed coat with tails, tight black jeans and a pair of dark Converse All-Stars looking trim and vigorous - the eternal youth every man wants to grow up to be. Throughout the night, he joked with the crowd and jousted with his band, putting on a suave air and comic persona that was part David Niven, part Eric Idle.

The highlights came fast and often, like fireworks: the bristling covers of the Pixies' "Cactus" and the Modern Lovers' "Pablo Picasso"; the robo-funk version of "Fashion," in which Bowie did a prÍt-a-porter strut down an imaginary runway.

The crowd, which ranged in age from kids in their early teens to men and women in their 60s (new punks to retired hippies), responded as expected to the well-known songs, like "The Man Who Sold the World."

But there were plenty of customers who were familiar with more than his greatest hits. So cuts like "Breaking Glass" and "Be My Wife," from "Low," and "Quicksand," from "Hunky Dory," also prompted some hearty responses.

The heart of the show came late. After a brilliant version of "Under Pressure," featuring the vocally endowed bassist Gail Ann Dorsey (filling in for Freddie Mercury) and a straight rendition of "Changes," Bowie indulged in something old and obscure, "The Supermen" (from 1969).

Then he headed full steam into a long, wild finale: a feverish cover of the Velvet Underground's "White Light/White Heat," then a version of "Heroes" that started out slow and skeletal but ended with Bowie awash in a heavy tide of celestial guitars and keyboards and facing a turbulent sea of joyous fans.

For the encores he and the band hauled out a song he said he hadn't done live in more than a decade, "Station to Station" (another one for the diehards). He followed that with a fail-proof one-two punch: a knockout version of "Suffragette City" and then one of his many signature tunes, "Ziggy Stardust."

By the time he and the band joined arms and took a deep, farewell bow, Bowie, his hair slicked back in sweat, looked genuinely thrilled and spent and in need of another washcloth - unwashed and somewhat slightly dazed, you might say.