Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - 20 May 2004

Entertainer Bowie wears status lightly

Songs have held up well, and, at 57, so has the singer

By Dave Tianen

The last time David Bowie was in town, on the Sound+Vision Tour, he sang in front of a 60-foot-tall projected screen image of his own face.

It's almost 15 years later, and rock's most celebrated narcissist can now poke fun at his own self-infatuation. Wednesday night at the Milwaukee Theatre, Bowie introduced "Fashion" with, "Let's talk about my clothes."

Now, he did follow that up with a bit of a runway strut, but that was largely in the interest of self-parody. Besides, it's easy to forgive a bit of preening. At 57, the man looks fabulous. Most people his age would have to suck the blood of the living or burn tana leaves to look that good. His hair alone deserves funding as a major research project.

Musically, the Reality Tour is basically a greatest hits tour with some tweaks. There was some predictably hip cover work on The Pixies' "Cactus," and a nod to early art rock influences with the Velvet Underground's "White Light, White Heat." There was also a sprinkling of new stuff from "Reality," such as "New Killer Star" and "The Loneliest Guy."

Perhaps the biggest sign of audience infatuation was the fact that the middle-aged crowd actually stayed on their feet for the first seven or eight tunes, including "New Killer Star." Usually, nothing drops a mature crowd on their pants faster than a new song.

Although he's done them before, a greatest hits tour always feels a little odd for Bowie. This is an artist who, for better or worse, has always gone to great lengths to live in the moment. Moreover, nostalgia and its inferred sentimentality seem in some basic way contrary to his aesthetic. None of that seemed to hold sway Wednesday, however. Bowie was organizing sing-alongs and leading the arm-swaying in "All the Young Dudes."

If Bowie's time as an innovator was relatively brief, it's also true that the hits have held up rather well. "Rebel Rebel" is seeing service these days as an ad jingle (which is both compliment and letdown) and "China Girl" and "The Man Who Sold the World" have aged equally well.

By Bowie standards, Reality seems like a modestly produced affair. The video is not Godzilla scale and it's not in constant use. There was some use of film and animation but rather sparing. And the fashion budget was shockingly modest. Bowie worked most of the night in black jeans and a T-shirt.

Bowie seems to have evolved into more the entertainer and less the icon. In previous tours there was something distant and synthetic about the man. He was a kind of theatrical invention to be admired from afar. This David Bowie seems more approachable, more human, more willing to engage an audience in personal terms.

This personable, Ziggy-next-door Bowie takes some getting used to. He's not quite the circus spectacle of old - but on the other hand, the music now gets to stand on its own merits.

Wednesday night, that worked.