For the fan, casual or devoted, it’s easy to find the positives in A Bowie Celebration as there are buckets of them. The hard part is allowing the ears to believe for certain that it’s not Bowie, in the flesh, singing throughout this career-spanning performance. It’s difficult, as Bernard Fowler, Corey Glover, Charlie Sexton, and company do such an incredible (and incredibly difficult) job of delivering the indelible vocal on these iconic songs. Close your eyes and, at times, it’s vintage thin white duke.
The intent of this tour organized meticulously by Bowie’s longtime collaborator, keyboardist Mike Garson, is not to re-create Bowie but, as the title suggests, celebrate the impact and the artistry of the late superstar. Just as importantly, the two-hours-plus celebrate not only the music, but, by virtue, this ultra-talented band playing it. Certainly, Bowie knew he had something special in Garson, and guitarist Earl Slick, as the pair’s start of service traces back to the early ‘70s.
In the opening spotlight, Fowler was cool and commanding taking on “Bring Me the Disco King,” and the smacking downbeat of “Rebel Rebel.” It was a setlist that favored The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars album for many of its selections, including an early and rippling “Moonage Daydream,” followed by the funk lesson of “Fame.” The carousel of vocalists shifted to Living Color’s Glover for an untamed “Young Americans;” Glover exorcising the soul, within, on an extended solo coda.
Sexton was next to put on the Bowie hat, authentically capturing the drama of “Space Oddity.” Actress Evan Rachel Wood, who Garson acknowledged may love Bowie even more than he, entered for a cathartic turn on “Rock and Roll Suicide,” then sat with Garson at the piano for an emotional duo performance of “Slip Away.” Garson then owned “Aladdin Sane,” dropping Gershwin winks into his bold and angular, Cecil Taylor-inspired solo run; one of the evening’s most impressive moments, (and that’s saying something).
Slick is an ageless wonder on guitar, and to some degree, criminally underrated given his acumen, enduring style, and presence. Behind Slick, bassist Carmine Rojas was the boulder of groove, igniting the Orpheum with one of rock’s most instantly recognizable licks of all-time on “Under Pressure;” Glover and Fowler dutifully handled the near impossible of replicating Bowie and Queen’s Freddie Mercury, and signaled the start of a seven-song stretch, encores included, that nodded to Bowie’s catalog in a most representative way.
There are some moments of shows that should be experienced firsthand rather than discussed in hindsight and this last run of songs is one of them. Needless to say, by the time Joe Sumner lifted “Life on Mars” to shattering heights, and the entire cast joined together on the “Heroes” finale, A Bowie Celebration had reached its zenith and its bittersweet conclusion. The words of the master undoubtedly rang true for everyone onstage, as they could be heroes, just for one day.