Review - Celebrating David Bowie @ the Regency Ballroom (3/3/18)

Nolan E
Like the man himself, the Celebrating David Bowie tour is an ever-changing project that includes new special guests and a variety of surprises at every stop on the tour. The one constant is that the lineup consists of Bowie's band mates, friends and other six-degrees-from-folks playing his songs, in tribute to the man himself. We were lucky enough to catch the show as it hit the Regency Ballroom last night and it was simply amazing.

The current version of the tour is lead by Mike Garson, Bowie's long time piano player. Since the early 70's, if there was any Bowie song that needed a piano part, odds are Garson was the one who played it, both live and in the studio. Garson started the show by walking on stage and welcoming the audience. He was quickly joined by singer Bernard Fowler and the two started the night with a version of “Bring Me The Disco King” off the Reality album (iTunes). Half way thru the song, they were joined by the rest of the band as the energy level increased along with the song, and ended with the entire band playing together.
Celebrating David Bowie (Photo: Nolan Erck)
Fowler handled lead vocals for half of the show, and passed the mic off to a handful of others for select songs. He belted out stellar versions of “Rebel Rebel”, “Suffragette City”, and “Moonage Daydream”; put his own spin on “Fame”; duetted famously with Gaby Moreno on “Wild Is The Wind” and closed out the encore by singing lead on “Diamond Dogs” and “Heroes”.

Famed producer and songwriter, Mr. Hudson, was the first guest singer to make an appearance. Hudson joined the band on stage to perform a very genuine version of “Changes”, giving it an almost Broadway Musical feel with his stage presence and delivery. We were also treated to his versions of “Starman” and “Ziggy Stardust”, each of which given the same sincerity and care.

Joe Sumner (yes, Sting's son) flipped between playing rhythm guitar and singing lead on select songs throughout the night. He connected with the audience amazingly well on “Space Oddity” and “Let's Dance”, getting a huge sing-along reaction from the packed room on both numbers. it any wonder (pun, very much intended) that the room went nuts for two of Bowie's biggest hits? Sumner then sang lead vocals again on “All The Young Dudes” to close out the main portion of the set list for the evening.

And of course, Earl Slick. The legendary guitarist responsible for so many of Bowie's recordings and live performances over the years. He played the majority of the show, slipping off stage for only a handful of songs depending on the arrangement. Slick commanded the stage without even trying; he became the band leader just by his sheer presence (most noticeably on “Fame” – the band seemingly took cues from Slick as the song progressed). He flipped effortlessly between his loose Keith Richards-esque style of rhythm guitar to the absolute perfect solos, never taking the spotlight for more than he should, never overplaying, never underplaying – this is how rock guitar is supposed to be done. I could watch Earl Slick play guitar all night.

Other highlights of the night included backup singer Naia's rendition of “Rock N Roll Suicide” and guitarist Gerry Leonard doing a solo version of “Andy Warhol” as the first song of the encore. Band leader Mike Garson would often introduce songs not just by title but also included stories about playing these songs with Bowie himself. Mostly Garson's playing was simple and supportive, never taking much of a spotlight; he switched gears and cranked things up quite a bit during “Aladdin Sane” – the piano solo stretched for several minutes, vamped in various directions and included (among other easter eggs) a few bars of John Lennon's “Imagine”.
Celebrating David Bowie (Photo: Nolan Erck)
This is probably the fifth or sixth large scale Bowie tribute show I've seen since he died; each has been different in its own way. Last night's set list included several lesser hits and deep cuts in the set which was a nice touch not seen at every tribute show. While I was familiar with some of the musicians in the band (Garson and Slick being the obvious ones), I left the show a new fan of Bernard Fowler, Joe Sumner and others. And feeling very happy that so many people are continuing to celebrate Bowie's legacy.

David Bowie has been my hero since junior high. The day he passed away, I called in sick to work, broke down and wept, unable to do much else. Watching the crowd last night, it was clear that his songs still affect a great number of us to this day. Thank you to Mike Garson, Bernard Fowler, Earl Slick, Gerry Leonard and all the others. The stars look a little different today because of the work you are doing, and the music you're playing.

The Celebrating David Bowie tour continues and you can find more details here if you're reading this outside of the SF Bay Area!

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Celebrating David Bowie Setlist The Grand Ballroom at the Regency Center, San Francisco, CA, USA 2018

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