(click on the pictures for a better view)
Read the gig review by Gerrie Lim and Kevin Mathews below
Pictures by Cyril Ng

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David Bowie
Singapore Indoor Stadium
March 4, 2004

Growing old can be a strange and wondrous thing, David Bowie seems to be telling us. How else can one explain why he’s now willing to traverse the globe to perform his greatest hits, ostensibly to promote a new album which rocks harder than anything he’s recorded in years and returns him to his roots? Live, in concert, he appears genuinely relaxed, totally at peace with his life and legacy, and the result is a show that’s never short on sublime pleasures.

Case in point: This first evening of his Reality tour’s Asian leg (which travels next week to Japan and Hong Kong) was filled with lots of improvised banter, reflecting his affable mood. Even when asking the audience to sing along, he wondered aloud: "Is that cool? Is that allowed?" - a light-hearted dig at the strict rules coerced upon Singapore concert audiences — and when the crowd failed to sing the first verse of "China Girl," he stood looking bereft, sighing and muttering, "Tragic!"

Lots of such comedic moments were sprinkled throughout this two-hour show encompassing 24 songs, of which only eight came from the recent two albums (Heathen and Reality). More tellingly, all four songs for the 20-minute encore were originally recorded in 1971. About a third of this audience hadn’t even been born then, and perhaps he was playing to the boomers and pre-boomers bopping around in their aisles. But what actually made it all work was the fact that no band has actually sounded this good at the Indoor Stadium, a venue shamefully full of past sonic fiascos, and that Bowie had taken the trouble to get all the little details right. Visually, the stage was stark, all clean lines with no monitors in front, meaning the entire band relied on earpieces to hear themselves. Manually-driven spotlights from the ceiling gave Bowie a backlight no matter where he moved on stage, with his visage projected on a giant screen above. That’s certainly one way of making a 57-year-old rocker look good all the time.

Bowie actually made note of his longevity when he introduced the band, informing everyone that lead guitarist Earl Slick has been with him since 1974 and pianist Mike Garson since 1972. But musically, the biggest impression came from bassist Gail Ann Dorsey, a Philadelphia native born in 1962, who’d previously toured with Tears For Fears, Gang of Four and Sophie B. Hawkins. She duetted with Bowie on "Under Pressure" with a soulful passion, actually bettering the late Freddie Mercury’s original vocal part.

The rest of the band — rhythm guitarist Gerry Leonard, keyboardist/percussionist Catherine Russell and drummer Sterling Campbell — provided tight, well-rehearsed support and sounded best when Bowie turned up the heat and brought out the old songs. Even on a chestnut ballad like "Life on Mars?" when he clearly had problems holding the high notes, the energy level was far more elevated than during the newer songs. When he goofed and came in ill-timed on "Ashes to Ashes," halting the show and making the band repeat the intro, it was magical to hear the entire ensemble play it again, popping and funking with the same mesmerizing spark.

The older songs seemed to bring out a more energized David Bowie, perhaps because those particular songs possess a power unrivalled in his repertoire. On "Battle For Britain (The Letter)," tonight’s sole nod to his mid-90’s experimental period (the Earthling album), the band exhibited a drum-and-bass cacophony bordering on industrial metal, as if to prove that they could stretch beyond the usual 4/4 cantering, rocking tempo. But that pulsating, percolating groove is precisely what this group does best -- why else open the show with "Rebel Rebel" (from 1973) instead of the equally kickass "New Killer Star" (from 2003, exactly 30 years later)? It takes sheer genius to devise a set list that represents a career overview yet essentially highlights the earlier material, as a way of surrendering to mortality yet staying the course.

Even for someone as jaded as myself, this being my fourth Bowie show (I’d decided after seeing him with Nine Inch Nails in 1995 that I’d truly beheld the pinnacle and originally hadn’t planned to attend tonight), it’s nice to be reminded that some pop culture icons do take their existential issues seriously. To the point where they simply allow the art to speak for itself. One can grow older and remain productive, but can one stay provocative? David Bowie, one sly cat as always, shows he can. - Gerrie Lim

+ + + + +

Art-rock is the grand contradiction, where accessibility and artiness intersect, cannibalize and metamorphose into something altogether "new". At his core, David Bowie is an art-rocker. Caught between two worlds, living within neither yet unable to exist without, he redefined art-rock for an entire generation in the 1970s, feeding off the Beatles, Dylan, Velvet Underground, Kinks, The Who and The Rolling Stones to spawn a mutant creature that would significantly impact the movements of punk, new romantic, electro pop in the subsequent generations of rock artists. That his influence is heavy and pervasive is not in dispute, the accusation leveled against Bowie — now into his late fifties — is often one of obsolescence and irrelevance.

Given that unlike most of his recorded output of the past two decades — which were largely shocking disappointments — Bowie’s last two viz. Heathen (2002) and Reality (2003) indicated that Bowie had all but given up trying to keep up with stylistic shifts and opted to concentrate on what he did best, and the consequent success (both commercially and critically) shows what a wise decision this turned out to be.

That David Bowie circa 2004 is a man at peace with his own legend is evident from the assured performance witnessed by thousands at the Singapore Indoor Stadium on an extraordinary March evening. Throughout, Bowie appeared to be in high spirits, indulging in witty stage banter and even allowing himself a gaff or two (he’s um…human after all!) whilst blowing the audience away with the power and authority of his material and execution.

Playing at least eight songs viz. "New Killer Star," "Cactus," "The Loneliest Guy," "Afraid," "Sunday," "Heathen (The Rays)," "Looking For Water" and "Days" from his most recent releases, Bowie boldly declared that he is still a creative force to be reckoned with in the new millennium. And by resurrecting the likes of "Rebel Rebel," "Fame," "All the Young Dudes," "The Man Who Sold the World," "Life On Mars?," "Quicksand," "Changes," "Heroes," "Five Years," "Suffragette City" and "Ziggy Stardust" from his 1970s heyday, Bowie acknowledged his illustrious past and reminded all and sundry how and why he earned his reputation.

Other highlights included "Under Pressure" performed as a duet with bassist Gail Ann Dorsey (where Bowie described himself doing the "Eddie Izzard" part!), the muscular industrial Earthling (1997) duo of "The Battle For Britain (The Letter)" and "I’m Afraid of Americans" and a poignant reading of "Ashes to Ashes" which Bowie prefaced with a warning against drug abuse.

Twenty-one years ago, Bowie let me (and probably countless others) down with a listless and insipid performance in the National Stadium during the Serious Moonlight Tour, at the beginning of his creative downward spiral, it was personally satisfying that Bowie has been more than able to redeem and restore his standing in the eyes of admirers and detractors alike. Thank you, Mister Jones…long may you run. - Kevin Mathews


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Copyright (c) 2004 BigO/Options Publications Pte Ltd. All Rights Reserved.









 

SET LIST

Rebel Rebel

New Killer Star

Fame

Cactus

All The Young Dudes

China Girl

Battle For Britain (The Letter)

The Loneliest Guy

The Man Who Sold The World

Afraid

Sunday

Heathen (The Rays)

Under Pressure

Life On Mars?

Looking For Water

Quicksand

Days

Ashes To Ashes

I'm Afraid of Americans

"Heroes"

(Encore)

Changes

Five Years

Suffragette City

Ziggy Stardust