CELEBRATING BOWIE : London Brixton Academy 08 January 2017
Bowie deserved better.
When I saw David Bowie at Glastonbury, I was fucked off my box, and having not slept for three days surrounded by a muddy population the size of Leicester. That was brilliant. Tonight... tonight's show was a great band in need of a great voice, bloated with unnecessary and shambolic guest turns ; none of whom matched the man himself. Such a shame. If anything it reminded us the great talent lost, by falling so far short.
When your Special Guests are The Guy Who Plays Sax In Spandau Ballet Who Got The Day Off Work, Tony Hadley, Simon Le Bon, Boy George, Joe Elliott, La Roux, Tom Thingy from Keane, The Guy From Fishbone In a 'Live And Let Die' outfit, The Singer From Fiction Plane, The Bloke In The Hat That Helps Mick Jagger, and Some Bloke That Runs A Website Who's Aiming For A BBC6 Presenters Job, your guests ain't that fucking special.
To an extent, it feels as if the band booked the gig and they will come but they didn't. There's a huge sense of people being plucked off the guest list and thrown at the stage at the last minute as David Bowie was unable to sing at a few hours notice.
Aside from Gary Oldman, I can't recall any of tonights guest vocalists ever talking about the formative influence Bowie was and is, and when Bowie's band are playing a tribute to him on his seventieth birthday in the town he was born in, almost exactly a year to his death, it's meagre gruel that leaves a sad taste.
With all due respect, it wasn't a celebration to me. We're watching a great tribute band with a string of next-to-nobodies on vocals in a huge venue, and were this not a charity show, I'd've happily asked for a refund. The way I see it now is that I donated a fair chunk of cash to charity and got a mediocre gig for free in the bargain. I'd've had a better night in the pub with my friends to be honest.
And, let's be honest. Adrian Belew, Mark Plati Gerry Leonard, Earl Slick, Gail Ann Dorsey, Zachary Alford, Sterling Campbell and Mike Garson are all former members of Bowie's band, and played on many of the albums and tours. They did a great job, and played passionately. But we don't need to change drummers and bass players and guitarists for every song. We don't need a huge and pointless choir. You need to rehearse a bit, and maybe get some more capable vocalists. At best, I hoped for Bowie's former band and some great guest vocalists on a few songs. The band themselves were good - albeit overpopulated - but the guest vocalists? Not worthy.
Before I went out, I joked that I hoped I wouldn't text “IT'S FUCKING STING” and I hoped the great unknown of guest vocalists would provide a unique and fitting celebration.
At worst, I feared getting the son of fucking Sting.
I got the son of fucking Sting, whose only claim to fame is having had the singer from the Police change his nappies and developing an app you've probably not heard of. Can you name his band? I'm a pop obsessive, and I have no fucking clue who he is. The only reason you know who Pompadour Monterry Ferry (or whoever that foxhunting slime is) is because of his Dad. The only reason you know who that person is is because Sting is his Dad. Sting, who as far as I can remember, never said anything positive about the planet sized genius that was David Bowie. And he gets to sing “Under Pressure”. Even though Tom Chaplin is here, and is known for singing that song.
Nobody was promised any big names, but the guest vocalists are – with all due respect – unfit to be called special. Sure, I can forgive George Michael not singing “Wild Is The Wind”, and not being here, on the grounds of unexpected deadness. But where's the artists who vocally loved him and espoused tributes on his demise? Why are almost all the vocalists stodgy rock stalwarts and 80's hasbeens or neverweres? Even I, as a tragic pop obsessive who absorbs the minutiae of this silly fad called music, has no fucking clue who at least half of the singers are. Clearly, plenty more were asked – or should have been asked – but for some reason were washing their hair. Who isn't here? David Gilmour and Robert Smith – both of whom sang with Bowie and live less than an hours drive from here. Jarvis Cocker. Iggy Pop. Ian Hunter (who sang 'All The Young Dudes'?) Not even Butterfly Boucher, who duetted with Bowie on a new version of 'Changes' in 2004 is here. Brian from Placebo absent. Neil Tennant reprogramming his iPhone, maybe. Instead, we get a three hour set of shambolic guest vocalists with four songs sung by the guy who sings backing vocals for The Rolling Stones and four songs sung by the singer from Fishbone in a bizarre Baron-Samedi style Voodoo Bad Guy From Live And Let Die outfit. Oh yeah, and the son of fucking Sting singing “Under Pressure.” It's like some random episode of The Black★ Factor.
Sure, I'm moaning. But none of the vocalists with the exception of La Roux are even vaguely fit to shine Bowie's shoes.
Joe Elliott sings two songs. Boy George sings a song. Tony Hadley sings a song. Mr Hudson sings a song, whoever the fuck he is. Simon Le Bon does a great job of “Let's Dance”'. But Simon Le Bon is the biggest guest of the night, and I wouldn't cross the road to the Dog & Duck and pay £5 to see Simon Le Bon play David Bowie songs. Adrian Belew does an unexpectedly good job of a stunning “DJ”/”Boys Keep Swinging” medley. The true vocal stars are Holly Palmer, who does a gorgeous “Where Are We Now?” that hints at the glory tonight should have been.
There is a luxurious “Lady Grinning Soul”, and Gail Ann Dorsey dominates a heartbreaking version of “Space Oddity” : Gail not only duetted with Bowie for several years as his bass player – but is also the best singer of the lot.
There's also a distinct lack of songs recorded after 1983 : only the opening 'Dead Man Walking' and 'Where Are We Now?' reflect his final three decades. The albums most of this band touched and recorded in his later years – 'Outside', 'Earthling', 'Hours', 'Heathen', 'Reality', 'The Next Day' are barely acknowledged. And Bowie was often nearing his best nearing the end, as an adult, having seen so much and reflecting back on it. So few artists grow old gracefully and Bowie did with more grace and wit than anybody. All of this is ignored in favour of the first third of his career.
Everything about this show was well intentioned. The band themselves played very well. The aim - to celebrate and bid farewell with grace - was there. But the guest vocalists just weren't good enough to overcome their limitations. Full marks for effort and intention. But they didn't hit the mark. I don't want to be harsh, but i can't lie to you. It wasn't successful.
Bowie deserved better voices than this.