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remnants: Celebrating David Bowie, New York Edition, Terminal 5, January 10, 2017
ain't there one damn song that can make me break down and cry?
This was a lovely evening, to be sure, brought on by the camaraderie of the musicians and the enthusiasm of the audience. This wasn’t the kind of crowd that went to the Dorf benefits last year, that owned CHANGES ONE and wanted to see the Mumfords, these were the people who cheered wildly every time Gail Ann Dorsey came to the mic.
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The beautiful moments were utterly stunning, enthralling, evocative, memorable. Gail standing onstage, barefoot as always, in this simple black frock, a mourning gown, singing “Young Americans” with the Harlem Gospel Choir will go down as one of the most amazing things I have ever seen. She had so much joy and sadness and pride in getting it right, every time the choir kicked in, it was astounding. Hearing Earl Slick play the intro to “Stay” again, and probably for the last time in my life, was unexpectedly emotional, and compelling. Adrian Belew was an utter delight - I was right in front of him, and he laughed and sang with us all night. Watching his hands play those riffs on “Fame” and “Fashion” and “DJ” – it was like catechism, you know? These are my holy books.
Living Color brought the motherfucking house down. Just burned the place DOWN. They came out for “Suffragette City” which had both Doug Wimbish AND Gail Ann Dorsey on bass, and then the supplemental musicians cleared the stage for “I’m Afraid of Americans” which was heart-stopping, especially that night as Obama said goodbye in Chicago as this was happening. They owned the song like they wrote it. They should record and release it immediately. Angelo Moore (from Fishbone) was also on fire, stunning costume and makeup changes, and one of the few singers unafraid to own the songs– “Ashes to Ashes’ and later, “Moonage Daydream”–and the stage and transform the performance while still keeping it very very Bowie.
Out of the non-name folks, a gentleman named Brett Hool had been on backing acoustic all night before coming out to sing this unexpectedly countrified version of “Ziggy Stardust.” Like, imagine if Gram Parsons had sung “Ziggy Stardust.” It was bold and heartfelt and the crowd ate it up, deservedly so.
In that revolving pool of musicians, you always KNEW when the drummer had switched to either Sterling Campbell or Zach Alford, and much of my joy in the evening was listening to and watching them play, and watching their interactions with other musicians – Zach and Earl Slick playing off each other during “Diamond Dogs” was utterly priceless. But it was a fucking drum clinic up there, as the two switched out with a third and with each other. They are just so, so, so very good.
I love Bernard Fowler and he did a great job but he did that thing at the end of songs that I blame his time with the Stones on, that inability to end a song crisply. “Rebel Rebel” has an end. End it. Don’t extend it with another two minutes of “Rebel Rebel.” The same thing went for many of the other guest vocalists. We are not here for your interpretations or your ad libs. This is not that night.
There was a huge band - there were strings. There were horns. There were alternate horns. All the guest singers sang backup and then alternate musicians would run out to sing backup. Sterling Campbell kept running out to play cowbell. The main saxophone player, whose name I did not catch, was phenomenal, the right mixture of soul and feel. I felt bad for the electronic keyboard player, who missed the opening riffs to “Sound and Vision” only to have Mr. Adrian Belew whirl around disapprovingly. It’s a tough gig. Step it up. But mostly, the band was rehearsed and we could hear all the parts and they all loved being there. Everyone stood sidestage, singing along all night.
I bought the ticket not knowing who the guests were because I trusted Mike Garson and everyone else involved to not let us down. And trust me, from a musical perspective, everyone did their best and played their hearts out and there were a lot of moving parts and everyone was prepared and clearly rehearsed. But for New York City, I think we deserved better guests than Sting’s son (who I didn’t even know existed, much less had a singing career, before tonight), and “Mr. Hudson” who thought we were there to see him, but managed to bungle the “Marks & Sparks” line in “Dudes” to an extent that I stood there going, He literally does not understand the line. He doesn’t know what it is so he threw something else in there. I thought ‘Heroes’ was too bright and cheery, and I thought the general setlist could have been more diverse for a crowd of people who came considerable distances and who knew every word of every song – Mike introduced everything with “You might know this,” and after a while, I mumbled, “Mike, we know ALL OF IT, come on.” I mean, I do not need to hear another version of “Man Who Sold The World” ever again.
To be fair, Jon Sumner acquitted himself reasonably well on “Under Pressure,” which I didn’t expect, and was so happy to hear, but that was mostly due to the strength of Catherine Russell, there on percussion, and came out for this one number. That said, all I could think were the missed possibilities with a more worthy partner. He just didn’t have the depth or the emotion or the vocal prowess and it almost was unfair to give that to him, there was no way he’d meet anyone’s expectations on this one. It’s tough.
I bought the tickets to this show, at Terminal 5, at the second VIP level, without knowing any special guest or what VIP was going to get me. I hate Terminal 5 – a colleague today noted it was “the worst place to see music possibly in America” and that’s not incorrect – but for this show, and because of the VIP tickets, I thought I’d make an exception. It was only bearable because I was alone and I know how to deal with entering a venue and getting a spot. I showed up at 5:30pm and ended up on the rail. Other people floundered about, trying to figure out if they were entitled to balcony access or not (not that the balcony at T5 is a great vantage point but it does give you more leaning potential). I will not ever do this again. (Seriously, fuck this venue where the security cannot correctly handle entry of a crowd of old people. Why is entering every concert there disorganized to the extent it feels like it’s the first time they’ve ever had a live music event there? Why is the security at every other Bowery Presents venue the polar opposite??)
For the diehards, you have no choice, you need to go to see Gail and Adrian and Mike and Earl and everyone else, they will give you the moments you need, the rest is just icing on the cake, not what you came for. Go if you can, but don’t fret if you can’t. He’s still gone and will be gone forever and nothing will be seeing David Bowie ever again. xo
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