“HWe will be remembered as Beethoven, a hundred years from now, ”veteran producer Tony Visconti recently said of David Bowie and, five years after the artist’s death, his colossal influence still reverberates in all manner of art forms. The latest incarnations range from the new single from Harry Styles to a relaxation app for kids featuring “Ziggy’s Hunky Dory’s Dream Story”.
The weekend that would have marked the singer’s 74th birthday brought a frenzy of activity, especially this epic tribute broadcast live. Pianist Mike garsonBowie, Bowie’s longest-serving musician, selected a six-decade lineup of singers and Bowie alumni, nearly 100 musicians, for three hours of sound and vision. The 40 songs ranged from obvious classics to lesser-known gems like Strangers when we meet and Conversation piece. Despite a setback (due to technical problems and Covid) that meant a 24-hour postponement, the event finally got off to a strong start with Duran Duran’s tribute to Five yearsBowie’s huge shadow looms fondly over his tailored hairstyles and suits.
The pandemic may have prevented a traditional concert with an audience, but the upside was a technical masterclass, which reflected and delighted Bowie’s love of theater and the performing arts. Some artists were filmed live in a building, others approached screens levitating from distant studios, their own homes or the street, with much use of computer graphics. Perry Farrell and his friends brought theatricality, camp, and a Phantom of the Opera mask to The Man Who Sold the World, while Billy Corgan’s disembodied head sang Space Oddity against stunning images of Earth from space. Gary Barlow, of all people, became a very respectable fame, while Lena Hall and Lzzy Hale’s Moonage Daydream was cracked with the strange electricity of the Ziggy Stardust era.
It was refreshing to hear so many women sing his words, with Anna Calvi’s lurid jazz Bring Me the Disco King and Judith Hill’s poignant Lady Stardust and Under Pressure (featuring Andra Day) among the highlights. Bowie’s former bandmate Gail Ann Dorsey brought personal intimacy to Can You Hear Me: “Don’t talk about heartbreaks, I remember them all.” At times, the excitement and sense of loss were almost overwhelming, with Taylor Momsen’s mesmerizing closed-eyed quicksand amid many moments of lumpy throats.
Bowie’s lifelong love of black music was strongly represented, with Corey Glover (Young Americans) and Bernard Fowler (Sweet Thing) giving Bowie’s “plastic soul” the excitement it was hardly lacking. The track list went from curveballs, actor Gary Oldman’s powerful singer, I Can’t Read, to faithful re-enactments. Joe Elliott and Bowie’s old schoolmate Peter Frampton took Ziggy Stardust and Suffragette City respectively. Original pianist Rick Wakeman teamed up with young Doncaster star Yungblud for a perfect note. Life on mars; Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor (who was swayed and swayed by Bowie) brought an industrial flair to Fantastic Voyage and Fashion.
As a general rule, the greater Bowie’s influence on the star, the more they put in honoring him. Ian Hunter broke All the young dudes, the song that Bowie generously gave to his band Mott the Hoople. Bowie-inspired androgynous Boy George delivered a delightful Aladdin Sane medley, while Adam Lambert covered the makeup of a triumphant Starman, suggesting he’s the closest thing to a living Ziggy.
There was a nice touch when Garson reflected on today’s tough times and dedicated himself Heroes to “a better future, that’s what David was all about.” All that was missing was the star himself and the global audience, who were surely out there, singing in their homes.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism