Bowie in a groove.
Review by Tony BonyataDespite electronica whiz-kid Moby's attempts at keeping the momentum of his Area Festival in full swing after the success of last year's debut of the all day music fest, it seems that even with a vast array of different music styles, along with the muscle of a bona fide rock legend, it wasn't enough to fill the Tweeter Center to anywhere near capacity.
Photos by Phil Bonyata
Too bad, too, because despite a couple of off moments at this year's Area2 concert, the day was filled with engaging music from a diverse group of musicians that ranged from techno, rap, performance art and rock.
Backed by a stage encompassing 11-piece band (4 of which were drummers) the performance group Blue Man Group was the first act to inject a sense of fun and spontaneity into the day. The three-men clad in black clothes and shaved cobalt blue pates ran through a set that was heavy on primal percussions, avant garde theatrics and industrial clangor.
While the cerulean trio pounded and beat on everything from the strings of an open-faced baby-grand piano propped up on its side to a grotesque conglomeration of PVC piping resembling a pile of intestines, their, often, comical antics worked perfectly with the backing percussionist's 'modern primitive' rhythms that rattled the venue's rafters. They even squeezed in a bit during one number where they flipped large cue cards, as if Bob Dylan was giving in-flight airline safety instructions to the crowd, al la "Subterranean Homesick Blues' from D.A. Pennebaker's film Don't Look Back.
On paper, the notion of adding Busta Rhymes' rap music to broaden the bill may have made sense, onstage, however, this ill fitting piece to an otherwise strong Area 2 puzzle didn't fare so well. While commendable that Moby would increase the diversity of the show by adding Busta to the lineup, it simply failed miserably. Embarrassingly boring and numbingly untalented, the big-mouthed rapper had to resort to cajoling the sparse crowd into a few half-hearted and tepid cheers, amid his bullying third-grade level rhymes on such hits as "Break Ya Neck' and "Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See.'
With the graciousness of not hoarding in on his host's prime headlining slot, David Bowie opened before Moby to a less than full crowd. Joined by longtime on-again, off-again band members Earl Slick (guitar), Mike Garson (keys) and Gail Ann Dorsey (bass), Bowie glowed through a refreshing set of his own standards, lesser known gems and newer material.
The rail-thin Bowie, looking healthier and happier than ever in a well-tailored suit reminiscent of his 1976 Thin White Duke period along with an age-defying haircut, updated old favs for the audience such as the dramatic "Life On Mars,' featuring Garson's beautiful flourishing piano, "China Girl,' where Bowie slipped in a little James Brown shuffle before Slick tore into a riveting guitar solo, and "Fame,' which was returned to its original Philly funk after his techno treatments of the song from recent tours. Likewise, on his newer hit "I'm Afraid Of Americans,' the band refrained from the heavy techno treatment of the original, instead adding a walloping muscular rock punch to the song. This may have seemed an odd time to change from techno to in-your-face rock - considering that many acts, especially on the second stage which featured techno and house DJs, were of the electronica genre, but Bowie and company worked it to perfection.
Perhaps what this 55-year old legend demonstrated better than any of his early contemporaries, such as The Stones, McCartney and The Who, is that his new music is more relevant than anything they've done in decades. Songs performed from his latest album Heathen, such as "5:15 The Angels Have Gone,' the ear-to-ear inducing smile of "Everyone Says 'Hi',' the ghostly "Heathen' and even the lively covers of The Pixies' "Cactus' and Neil Young's "I've Been Waiting For You,' all married perfectly with his older classic material.
Rather than just an all-hits show, however, Bowie also unearthed a couple of real gems for the jaded from his groundbreaking 1977 album Low. Tossing off his jacket the thin white one and band broke into a shattering version of "Breaking Glass,' before later revisiting the hopeful instrumental "A New Career In Town,' where Bowie joined his bandmates with the promising cries from a harmonica.
What was more evident than anything from his performance, however, was the fact that vocally Bowie has never sounded better. Maybe it's because he's recently given up his longtime affair with fags...er, cigarettes, that has given a broader depth to his pipes, but whatever it was, this man was on. After performing "Heroes' for the millionth time, his passionate, pleading voice made this old concert stalwart rise fathoms above so many rote versions performed in the past. Even the one-time MTV-favorite "Let's Dance,' which opened with Bowie doing a brief flamenco dance which lead into a soulful read of the song's intro before the band neatly blew the roof from the song's original dance-pop foundation, now seemed to sit quite comfortably next to some of his strongest work.
After a performance this riveting, it would seem that most any other act would wither up and die in comparison, but, surprisingly, Moby handled the task at hand quite well. But whereas Bowie offered a show that relied heavily on the music and talents of his band rather than the surrounding circuses, everyman nerd Moby, on the otherhand, felt the need for a state-of-the-art light show, a string of familiar hits and some overzealous stage chicanery to headline this show. His frantic stage demeanor, which went from cross-stage sprints, that contained all of the the grace of a drunken kangaroo, to his rather clumsy fondling of his mic stand, unfortunately, came off just a bit too forced.
Along with a proficient 8-piece band Moby ran through a good number of songs from his breakthrough album Play, such as the dreamlike "Porcelain,' "Go' and the gospel-soaked "Natural Blues.' When the diminutive singer settled behind his microphone on "We Are All Made of Stars,' a song from his latest album 18 which not so coincidentally features a line that hints at Bowie's own "Heroes,' his wimpy, monotone voice not only carried the song's message but also helped put the focus back on his music . This is not a jibe at his singing ability. Without competing for dominance, his even, unobtrusive voice blended with his richly textured music into a neatly mixed cocktail.
Maybe, however, had he placed the proper headlining act in this spot, he could have toned down some of his desperate physical pleas for attention and just simply played.
The Blue Man Group
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