January 24, 2004
Despite being a big-time fan for many years, I had not been to a Bowie concert. Finally, I now know what I had been missing, and I’m borderline depressed and in Bowie withdrawal as I write this. I went to two shows—Vancouver (Floor, Row 2) and Seattle (Floor, Row 24). This is my song-by-song write-up of the Vancouver show. I’ll probably do one for Seattle also, but so far it’s all in handwritten scribbles that I haven’t typed up yet. I hope some of you enjoy this. It is long, but I hope that if you read it you feel as though you were there with me, too.
01 Rebel Rebel--The crowd was going crazy from the start. David seemed incredibly excited as well. He began the song to almost deafening noise from the crowd. After the first verse, during a brief musical segment where he did not have a vocal, he strutted his way from stage right to stage left, with a visible happy skip in his step, as he smiled widely and waved at three tiers of hysterical, screaming fans in GM Place. He did not have his microphone in hand, but rather had left it on the mic stand at center stage. He was smiling and waving (. . . and looking so fine) and beaming his toothy grin. He then nearly skidded to a sudden stop near stage left and bolted back toward the microphone but did not quite get there in time to start up his vocal. "Yes!," I thought to myself, "David is so pumped for this show that he's missing his vocal cue because he's too happy skipping about and waving at everyone!" My sister leans over, laughing, saying “Oh my God, he FORGOT to sing!" I knew at that very moment that we were in for something incredible. At the song’s close, over the fans’ roar of applause, David yells “Vancouver you crazy motherfuckers, good to be here!” The screams and applause get even louder. He laughs and points out Isabelle Guns, who is seated in the front at stage right, wearing the now infamous bunny costume. David points at her and says “more about that bunny later.” He again asks us how we are, and while we’re still screaming in response, he inquires “More music, then?” The band starts into New Killer Star..
02 New Killer Star—“Ready, Set, Go!” I was going, alright!
03 Reality—Rousing. Why some people don’t like this song is beyond me. David’s “ha, ha, ha, ha” laughs were loud, ironic, menacing and maniacal. Just thrilling.
04 Fame—Funky as all get-out. With some hip shaking and dramatic posing thrown in for effect during the numerous bleats of the word “fame.” Very Bowie. At the song’s close, when the repeated “what’s your name” refrain echoes to the song's final fade, David walks over to stage right and makes fun of the Bunny. “Thank you very much guys, but let me go get the name of this bunny. Oh, wow it is a little bunny. Hi there little bunny. Flaming Lips are next week, love. What’s your name?” She answers. He says “Isabelle the bunny. I love it when people dress like bunnies to my shows.” He makes bunny ears with his hands, continuing his good-natured abuse of the Bunny at stage right. He then turns to stage left and points directly at Bowienetter Tannis, who is standing right next to me, and he jumps up and down with his finger pointed at her, imitating the way she was jumping up and down like a lunatic at the previous Calgary show (at which he had also imitated her). Both Tannis and I, encouraged by David’s mockery, start jumping up and down like complete fools. He laughs. He then looks to stage right and makes bunny ears at Isabelle, then alternates to stage left and jumps up and down mocking Tannis (and maybe me, too?), and then back to bunny ears. Cute. He then says “This next song is by the Pixies. . . . This is kind of surreal . . . [he adopts a mock announcer's voice, several octives lower than his own] ‘Okay bunny, here is a pixie song for you.’” He laughs, and Cactus starts.
05 Cactus—Great performance. David infuses this song with such desperation and longing, especially when he cries out plaintively for “something you wore.” He also disrobes a bit during this one. Having already ditched his tattered black morning coat earlier, he now partially takes off his shiny, wrinkled undercoat, but leaves one sleeve on so he’s dragging the coat around till near the close of the song, where he takes it off entirely, wrinkles it into a ball and clutches it to his chest as if it were the “something you wore” he’s been pleading for. I notice the harmonica tucked into his pants, and excitedly point it out to Tannis. We are now assured he will play She’ll Drive the Big Car, one of my favorite tracks from Reality.
06 She’ll Drive the Big Car—Sure enough, the “Big Car” arrives. The song sounds great, the backing vocals are dreamy, and David plays the harmonica. Sigh.
07 All The Young Dudes—David invites us to sing with him, “if you know the words.” The band starts into the song, and of COURSE we all know the words. He kicks his leg up during the “but he can kick like a mule” lyric. I’m transported back twenty years to me sitting in a theatre watching him sing this song during the original theatre run of Ziggy Stardust The Motion Picture. I’m on air.
08 China Girl—Nice slightly reworked rendition of this fun song. He substitutes the “Oh baby just you shut your mouth” lyric with “Oh baby shut the fuck up.” And continues with “she says shhhhh,” placing his finger to this pursed lips. He repeats “she says shhhhh” again this way. Then when he sings “she says . . .” and cuts off there, he sucks on his finger suggestively while the band plays. Quite sexy.
09 I've Been Waiting For You—He dedicates this song to “Isabelle Bunny” and says “You probably didn't realize this, but I recorded this next song for a bunny. This song is for you. This is my bunny song.” He even evicts the word “woman” in the opening verse, opting instead to sing “I’ve been waiting for a bunny to save my life.” This was never one of my favorite Heathen tracks, but it’s funny how having heard David perform a song live can change it for you. I listened to Heathen on the drive back home from the concert, and didn’t skip this song for the first time in a long time.
10 Days—Powerful performance of a very lovely song. At the close, where he sings the final line, “all the days I owe you,” he holds out his arm and gallantly bows toward the audience as though tipping his hat to us. Very fitting, in my view, as I’ve always taken this song to operate on dual levels. To me, the “you” to whom he sings of owing so much is any number of people in his personal life, as well as the large number of fans whose continued devotion allows him to do what he loves to do: write and perform music. A very nice “thank you” note, this song is. Very moving.
11 A New Career In A New Town—He introduces this as an instrumental from Low, and I’m grinning from ear to ear. I turn to Tannis and announce, “It must be harmonic night!” One of my favorite Bowie instrumentals, if not my very favorite. The harmonica part sounds so rich and beautiful. At a break when David is not playing the harmonica and Garson’s prominent piano pounding fills the air, David tilts his head back deeply, an almost serene look takes over his face as the corners of his lips move slightly upward into a small smile and he closes his eyes and slowly shakes his head from side to side, taking in the song. I could see in that moment how much the music from Low still means to him. He has described the album as a catharsis of sorts, and he has stated that when he hears songs from Low—even the dark, moody, disturbed and on-the-surface depressing ones—he can “hear the sound of me wanting to get better.” I could see him drink in the healing power of this lovely song, and I felt so very fortunate to be hearing it while watching him experience it, too.
12 Breaking Glass—To my complete delight, he decides to say with Low and do “another one from the same album.” He goes into full-on Bowie mode singing “you’re such a wonderful person, but you’ve problems,” leaning back into a tortured grimace and raising his arms into semi-clenched, shaking fists as he howls “I’ll never touch you.”
13 The Man Who Sold The World—He introduces this song as the first of his songs he ever heard on North American radio. The layered mournful moaning at the end is my favorite part, with David’s voice blending in beautifully with Gail’s and Kat’s. Sublime.
14 Hallo Spaceboy—This song is just astounding live. David traverses the raised catwalk at stage right, going to the very edge of it, the tip of his Converse-clad feet extending slightly over the end of the thing. (I giggle to myself, thinking that with his fear of flying and all, it is clear David does not have a fear of heights!) He then kneels to perform the middle part of the song. He further accentuates a great echo effect by moving the microphone quickly from side to side as he hits the word “me” in “this chaos is killing me-e-e-e-e-e-e-e.” This live version is by far the best version I have heard. He scream-sings the final “moondust will cover you!” and the song ends abruptly with high drama. Boy, cover me in moondust if you must. I can die happy now.
15 Sunday–David is now along the back raised ramp, right under the lower set of screens as he begins Sunday. “All my trials, Lord, will be remembered, everything has chaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaanged.” Amazing performance, and incredible guitar work by Earl Slick.
Band Introduction—The house lights are brighter now, and David announces that he can see us as clearly as we can see him. He points across the stadium up to the farthest point of the 300 level and says he can see a “guy with dark hair, . . . no, not you . . . THAT guy, yeah, with the cufflinks that say ‘Max’.” And he waves mockingly as though he has actually pinpointed this person with an eagle’s precision. He introduces guitarist Earl Slick, and then points out the “red hair” on a Ziggy wannabe in the crowd. He then spots another Ziggy wannabe—in full Ziggy regalia—and comments “Oh, look at that costume!” As he introduces pianist Mike Garson, he jokes that Mike Garson used to have a haircut like the Ziggy wannabe at one point, and then corrects himself and states that actually Mike “still has that hairstyle . . . in a box at home.” He then introduces keyboardist, percussionist and backup vocalist Kat Sullivan, drummer Sterling Campbell, and guitarist and “Irishman” Gerry Leonard. He saves his introduction of bassist and vocalist Gail Ann Dorsey for the segue into the next song.
16 Under Pressure—One word: Gail. What a voice she has. David introduced this as a song he wrote with Queen in the 80s, and then gestured toward the sky seemingly addressing the late Freddie Mercury. “Hey, Freddie,” he says, “we have Gail singing your part tonight.” David sounded powerful and Gail could melt butter with her chilling —Freddie would have mightily approved.
17 Life On Mars?—A quiet, acoustic version. What a lovely, timeless thing this song is. And David nails the high notes with amazing clarity and precision. And he holds them their full intended length. I’m astounded.
18 Panic In Detroit—Great rendition that mirrors the 1979 re-recording of this song to a great degree. David also sang the entire song in an extremely exaggerated English accent. I loved it.
19 Ashes to Ashes—David announces “now we’re going out to space.” And he takes us there, as only he can. The instrumental breakk at the middle of the song is altered somewhat, with Mike Garson fiercely pounding out 1. Outside-ish atonal notes like some sort of lunatic piano God.
20 White Light, White Heat–Again, I’m transported back to watching the Ziggy movie and hearing David perform this song. Great guitar work again by Slicky. I couldn’t stop bouncing the entire time.
21 I'm Afraid Of Americans—Wow! I’ve always loved this song, but my sister never cared much for it until she heard it live. It was among the highlights of the concert for her--and, since the concert, has become one of my 5-year-old nieces favorites (thank God she hasn't picked up on all the lyrics yet, and has yet to ask the proverbial question: "Mommy, what is pussy?"). David moves his microphone stand to stage left, and I am now no more than 8 feet from him as he sings “Johnny’s an American, Johnny looks up at the stars . . . (he raises his arms and folds them partially behind his neck, leaning back to the stars and allowing my sister and I long, lusty look at his exposed belly) . . . Johnny comes his hair and Johnny wants pussy and cars.” At this point, David Bowie is grabbing his crotch just feet away from me . . . Lordy! And the crucifix pose he eases his long limbs into while repeating “God is an American” is pure Bowie theatre. Just amazing.
22 "Heroes"—He again introduces this song as being the “other side” that most stories have. I love this version of “Heroes,” which starts in mid-verse and slowly builds and builds in successively shellacked on textures and rhythms. Great song to end the main set with.
23 The Loneliest Guy—Nice performance. Not among my favorite songs, actually, but being so close to watch David’s dramatic facial expressions and each tortured grimace that accompanied each “Oh” was fantastic. This man really ACTS his songs out. I so love those theatrics. Loved the look of defiance on his face as he sang "Not me!"
24 Blue Jean—He announces this song as one that is “a little bit old . . . not like me, and a little bit Blue . . . not like you” (whatever THAT means! ). The different instrumentation lent the song a slightly Latin feel in places. It was a rocker, and worked beautifully, which I did not expect. My initial thought when I read a few days earlier about the first appearance of Blue Jean in a recent setlist was “Oh, crap! He’s actually doing ‘Blue Jean’.” I was in giggles over the thought, thinking David’s lost his mind. Then my second thought was, “he must be having a lot of fun, so more power to him!” Who cares? Sing Too Dizzy if the spirit moves you, David! Actually, Blue Jean is a pretty good song, but it’s among those that many of us like but would never admit to liking. After THIS performance, maybe I can admit it with pride now! . . . I said “maybe,” ok?
25 Hang On To Yourself—The beginning of a mini-set of Ziggy numbers. I jumped up and down the whole time. Only David Bowie can sing about a “funky thigh collector” and still have thighs work “collecting” (if you catch my drift) at the age of 57! What fun this was! Was there a pogo stick under me?
26 Five Years—One of my favorite songs. Dazzling performance. Nothing much else to say. I was moved. David screamed out the repeating “five years” refrain in fantastic voice. He exceeded my expectations each time he belted out a 30+-year-old song with such energy and angst that you would never be able to guess the age of the song if you didn't know better. Even if the rest of David Bowie might (despite one recently defiant song title's suggestion) actually “get old,” I doubt that his magnificent voice ever will!
27 Suffragette City—Nearly 13,000 people screaming “Wham Bam Thank You Ma’am!” in unison. Fantastic. Complete with a high kick at the end of the final “suffragette!”—well, as high as those tight, low-slung jeans will allow.
28 Ziggy Stardust—Pandemonium. A 57-year-old Bowie being every bit the rock and roll God he ever was. “Ziggy plaaaaaaayed . . . guitaaaaaaaaaar.” Melancholy sets in. How could 28 songs seem so short? "Okay," I think to myself, "get your shit together, you get to do this again tomorrow in Seattle!"
And I did. And I'll write about it later.
Thank you for everything, dear David.