The London Free Press - 15th May 2004

Bowie still blazing

The Thin White Duke keeps cranking up the charisma

By James Reaney

Nobody waited for a reality check at the John Labatt Centre last night. More than 8,500 David Bowie fans were up on their feet from the first riffs of the British rock star's classic Rebel Rebel as his Reality Tour hit the downtown London arena. Many on the arena floor were still up and cheering as the show approached the two-hour mark.

The fans' pent-up Bowie love greeted the star's elegant stroll to centre stage.

Bowie, in a jesting mood during much of his stage talk, was in the mood for love, too. "I love you and you and you," he said, before promising to tell all of us "individually" he loved us. After perhaps 20 "I love yous," he admitted it might be "a long process."

Long, but with all those hits to love, never tedious.

Sure enough, Bowie jumped out of the stage quips and it was time for another blast from his past on a night when he mixed songs from his new Reality album and such classics as Station to Station, Quicksand, All the Young Dudes, Panic in Detroit and a blazing Suffragette City to start the encores.

Bowie can still play the part of the aristocratic rock god, a.k.a. the Thin White Duke, one of his many poses. But last night, as he proved during the love session, he can also use humour to deal with rock reality.

He praised his stage crew for putting the set together so smoothly that he and band had nothing to concern themselves with except playing, although he added, "We'd have done it in our underwear if we had to. You know that."

From Rebel Rebel on into the night, Bowie just kept cranking up the charisma. He strapped on his guitar for the first time early in the show during New Killer Star, an impassioned reflection on the tragedy of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York. The cheers that greeted this nouveau Bowie classic were for a star who doesn't slow down and still faces the grief in life with a tough mind. When he did a little bump and grind at the microphone stand, there were yells for a star who looks great as he nudges age 60.

"(There are) intelligent, interesting and tasteful people out there," he smiled in acknowledgement of the shouts of recognition when he praised the recently reunited Pixies. Bowie then launched into a cover of the Pixies' Cactus.

As the night went on, it looked as if Bowie would luxuriate in many of the roles he's played - including that joking and aristocratic Duke, the alien Ziggy Stardust, the thinking fan's disco man and older and still sharp Brit rock star.

In the early going, Bowie wore a frock coat that must have been rip-tailored and designer-torn just for him. He also kept on the move in the most elegant pair of running shoes seen on the centre's stage.

Later, he had shrugged out of the coat and showed off a sleeveless look, always a good move for a man who might have been a great mime if he hadn't been pulled toward rock stardom.

Bowie kept the fans farthest from the stage tuned in with big video screens. The images were a little fuzzy, but that might have been the point. The fans on the rink floor had Bowie in the midst, as he used a little catwalk to walk their way. He greeted fans on the side of the rink floor from larger platforms.

Bowie's energy seemed to flag only briefly about an hour into the show when he visited a couple of songs from a recent release, Heathen. The video screens were heavy with images of conflagration and murky doings.

Bowie lightened things up by introducing his band, but the impression was of a man catching his breath before pushing on for the next hour-plus of a briskly paced show.

Bowie has been touring with an outfit including guitarist Earl Slick, celebrating 30 years on and off with the star, and keyboard player Mike Garson, who joined in the Ziggy and the Spiders era. The drummer is Sterling Campbell and the bass player and backup vocalist is Gail Ann Dorsey, who took the late Freddie Mercury's role in a duet with Bowie.

Bowie's Reality (ISO/Columbia/Sony) is filled with songs about age. The man is 57 and if he isn't feeling it, Bowie is certainly thinking about it. Never Get Old, insists one title, which can be heard as Bowie's refusal to bow to age or a command to himself and his fans to battle decline all the way.

Opening for Bowie was a Welsh rock band the Stereophonics. Mega-sellers in Britain, Stereophonics are "absolutely massive" on their home turf in the south of Wales, observed singer/guitarist Kelly Jones.

Next time, they deserve to come back as headliners, although they can leave the clunky keyboards at home.

Copyright The London Free Press.