A Bowie Celebration @ Mtelus – 2nd March 2019

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Why would a group of world renown, veteran musicians who have played with artists like John Lennon and Bob Dylan decide to get on a tour bus and travel across Canada and the USA, doing five shows a week in some of the coldest cities in winter?  

Well, if you are fortunate enough to attend A Bowie Celebration, as I did on March 2nd at the MTelus in Montreal, you will understand.  And in case you are unaware of the genius of David Bowie, you can always learn a lot about a person by looking at their friends.

Mike Garson was Bowie’s piano and keyboard player since around 1972 (Ziggy Stardust).  He was also the creative force behind that piano solo in Aladdin Sane which he improvised when Bowie told him to “do his avant-guard thing.”  

The first thing I said,  meeting him after the show was;“You really kicked the shit out of that piano tonight!”  To which he softly replied with a demure smile; “Yeah I did bang it up pretty hard didn’t I?”

When he cut loose during Aladdin Sane, he played with such force, I kept waiting for lightning bolts to shoot out of his fingers.  

Mike was the “maestro” of the band, introducing the members and sharing personal memories of his beloved friend.

He admitted that there are moments during the tour that can be difficult. Oftentimes when he looks out into the crowd and sees the intensity of the fans, he can’t help but feel emotional.  There are people of all ages who know the words to all the songs because David was a brilliant song writer.  This is why he believes that the Bowie catalogue must be played and I agree.

 The legendary Earl Slick was razor sharp, strutting across the stage in his leopard skin jacket and dark shades.  Beaming with pride when his son’s name, Lee John was announced on drums.  Slick didn’t just play with masterful fingers but with his heart.

As did the ever charismatic Charlie Sexton who switched from electric to acoustic guitar and gave us all goosebumps when he performed a flawless version of “Space Oddity”.  He then sang “Lazarus”, from “Black Star” (Bowie’s final album) and the audience went completely still.  It’s a song we never expected to hear live but he sang it with such care and his voice was so raw and vulnerable, I can’t imagine anyone else attempting such a task.

Just like Bowie’s penchant for the unpredictable, there were some unusual song choices.   The show’s opener “Bring Me The Disco King” delivered by the formidable Bernard Fowler (Rolling Stones) set the “buckle up we’re about to get funky in this mutherfucker” tone. From “Rebel Rebel” to “Fame”, Fowler commanded the crowd with his deep rich growl and drove them to a delicious frenzy. 

Not to be out-funked, Corey Glover (Living Colour) managed to get the audience even more riled as he kicked out the jams with “Young Americans” and “Ashes To Ashes.”

This star-studded band could not be complete without the super smooth bass playing of Carmine Rojas. Touring with Bowie sInce the early 80’s, Rojas is still on top of his game.  He makes it look so easy but Bowie always chose the best and recognized his mad skills early on.

Another lovely surprise was back-up vocalist Naia Kete’s sweet and soulful version of “Quicksand”.  Accompanied by Garson on piano, this former contestant on “The Voice” managed to hold her own with the rock veterans.  

I had the pleasure of speaking with her after the show and learned that her new album will be released in September, followed by a tour with her pop/reggae band SayReal.  (The band consists of her partner Lee John and brother Imani.)   I asked her if it was intimidating being around such seasoned and accomplished musicians and she replied.

“Yes at first, but once I got to know them, they were all very sweet and helpful.  I have learned so much from all of them.”

And then I realized exactly why Bowie chose all of these remarkable musicians. It wasn’t just because they were highly skilled, great performers or truly creative.  It was because they had a deep love and respect for their art and for each other. He trusted them with his sound and vision.

A Bowie Celebration is a declaration of love for one of the most original and inspiring artists of all time.  Bowie appealed to so many different types of people on so many levels.  He wasn’t only a prolific song writer and exciting performer with great style and a soulful voice.  It wasn’t simply the hair styles and costumes.  Bowie had that rare ability to appear vulnerable and defiant at the same time.  He could be freakish and he could be elegant.  He took us on fantastic voyages and allowed to us to embrace our “Scary Monsters.” 

The show ended with “Heroes” as an encore.  The entire room singing along with Fowler’s impassioned plea “we can be heroes, just for one day!”  He pointed to the crowd, he looked up at the ceiling, he put his hand on his heart and we all knew what he didn’t have to say.

The band played as though Bowie was watching like a star man in the sky.  Who’s to say he wasn’t?

Review – Annette Aghazarian

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