The Washington Times - 18th May 2004

Ziggy has landed

By Dan Campbell

Thirty-five years after ground control failed to make contact with Major Tom, David Bowie is far removed from the space oddity he once was.

Indeed, Sunday night at the Patriot Center, he seemed almost frighteningly conventional - still very cool in a Calvin Klein kind of way, but certainly no longer the leopard messiah of Ziggy Stardust days. This is not a bad thing, especially for those of us who always enjoyed Mr. Bowie's music in spite of the fey image, outlandish outfits and questionable stage antics. Who, for instance, can ever forget the glitter-era Mr. Bowie flossing his teeth on Mick Ronson's guitar strings midsolo? Not I, unfortunately. We thrilled to the musical exploits of Mr. Bowie, if not always to the man (or, at least, the image of the man). Ultimately, the genius of Mr. Bowie is that you can take all the gender-bending imagery and over-the-top avant-garde posturing (which were great for grabbing press in the 1970s) and toss them in the trash - and still be left with a brilliant body of music.

At its best, Mr. Bowie's music is adventurous and inventive, laden with passionate melodies, infectious hooks and wickedly clever lyrics. It can be crassly commercial one minute, then suicidally anti-commercial the next. All of this was on display during Sunday's two-hour-plus show.

The concert featured about a third of his hits, a third of his rarely performed album tracks and a third of songs from his two most recent albums, "Heathen" and "Reality," both very strong outings that were co-produced by on-again, off-again collaborator Tony Visconti. Like the aforementioned Major Tom, Mr. Bowie, now 57, seems to be taking his protein pill. He looks and acts ageless, every inch the portrait of Dorian Gray. The latest "do" for his famous golden locks is a kind of tousled, Dennis the Menace flop. He looked lean and mean in a sleeveless black T-shirt and tight jeans, frequently performing on a thin spit of stage that thrust out into the first rows of the audience. After opening with "Rebel, Rebel," Mr. Bowie apologized for being several months tardy (the show was postponed last winter because of his having the flu), then he charged into "Fashion," "New Killer Star" and "Cactus" - the latter two songs from his most recent albums and the best rock 'n' roll songs he has cut in a decade or more. Each has a searing guitar riff that would be right at home on "Diamond Dogs." Also included were the hits "Modern Love," "Fame" and "China Girl." "All the Young Dudes," probably his greatest song, was done very much in the style of Mott the Hoople, the band to which Mr. Bowie gave the tune in 1972 to keep it from splitting up. "The Man Who Sold the World," the title track from Mr. Bowie's 1971 album, was an apt choice for the man reputed to be the world's second wealthiest rock star and one who could darn near buy the planet. Mr. Bowie said both it and the song performed before it, "Loneliest Guy," are about abandonment, though written some 30 years apart. "It shows I'm still in denial and writing about the same things," he said with a laugh.

A thundering version of the rarely performed "Panic in Detroit" was introduced by Mr. Bowie's observation that it was "the first song I ever wrote about terrorism." Enigmatic to the end, the star closed the regular set with two songs that could be viewed as making contrasting commentaries on America's political situation: "I'm Afraid of Americans," in which he noted that "God is, after all, an American," and "Heroes," which Mr. Bowie dedicated to the city of Washington, adding that he and his wife live in New York and that all but one of his six band members are Americans. There was a two-song encore of "Suffragette City" and "Ziggy Stardust." And that was "wham-bam-thank you-ma'am" all she wrote.