It felt like a special night on Saturday as I sidled up to the ticket counter and announced, “Bowie party for Bowie please” Felt good, felt special, especially for the Bowie family from St Heliers. Tonight, we celebrate all things Bowie when the David Bowie Alumni Tour kicks off at the ASB Theatre in Auckland, NZ.
Then a little while later, Bowie’s piano player Mike Garson (check out the book) walks carefully across the stage and welcomes us to the evening, explaining that he wanted to start the show with the last song they used to play on the Reality tour, Bring Me The Disco King, one of Bowie’s more obscure tracks, originally written in the early 90s, but only appearing in 2003 as the last track on the album. Sparse keyboard, strangely prophetic, foreboding, death in the air, reminiscences abounding, “we could dance, dance, dance through th’ fire”. And that’s the great Bernard Fowler at the mic, available due to Mick’s little heart valve mishap, adding quotes from other songs which reflect the span of Bowie’s career, and set the scene for what’s to come... touching firstly on Lazarus (“Look up here, I’m in heaven”, “I’ve got nothing left to lose), 1999’s Something in the Air (“lived all our best times, left with the worst) and then 1969’s Memory of a Free Festival: (“the Sun Machine is coming down, and we’re gonna have a party”) From the middle, to the end, and to the beginning of Bowie's amazing career, all in the first song!
Mike Garson explains that over forty years he has played in 14 different Bowie band configurations and 1000 concerts as if we had any doubt about his credentials to lead this band!! And then on they come, 9 musicians in total, and the party begins.
Gerry Leonard and Mark Plati on guitars, the legendary Carmine Rojas ( has toured here with Bonamassa, and Rod Stewart) on bass, Lee John (son of Earl Slick) on drums, and alternating on support and lead vocals are equally legendary Rolling Stones backing vocalist Bernard Fowler, son of Sting Joe Sumner, Living Colour’s Corey Glover, and Guatemala’s Gaby Moreno. These guys are fresh off a 40-date tour of America, so we don’t need to worry about first night cobwebs. And most of them are Brooklyn musicians, which feels a little strange before reality strikes home: David lived in New York!
Fowler continues with Rebel Rebel, Moonage Daydream and Fame. Gerry Leonard cuts loose on Moonage Daydream, and I remember Brett Adams (The Bads, Tami Neilson) doing the same at the tribute concert in 2016. And at home on our deck. Manic. Fame gets us all funky, and on comes Corey Glover for Young Americans. What a feast (but something’s missing...)
A pleasant surprise, again reminiscent of three years ago, as Garson announces a special guest, and it’s our very own reclusive legend Alastair Riddell, these days more of a film director than a rocker, but he can still sing, even though Space Oddity is a touch underdone. It could be the sound, it could be his voice, but a touch tentative (he makes up for it later on).
Joe Sumner comes forward for a rousing Starman, and the crowd, dancing by now, does its best to contribute (I’d give us 6/10). Then a sombre (because it is) Lazarus, a song we never saw him sing, poignant pathos. Crescendo. Now Gaby Moreno takes her turn with Five Years and a cabaret-style Time. The former is one of my favourite Bowie songs, but I have to say a female rendition, as good as she is, just doesn’t feel right (something’s missing) ...
And so on it goes. A smorgasbord of song. Mike Garson reminiscing about his 7-second audition with Mick Ronson before getting the job; into Changes, he goes, and back comes Alastair. Glover and Fowler combining for I’m Afraid of Americans and Under Pressure. Moreno doing a fine job on Panic in Detroit, which Garson remembers playing in Detroit. One can only imagine how that went down. Sumner was superb on All the Young Dudes, the song Bowie gave to Ian Hunter to give Mott the Hoople a career-defining boost.
A missing song, one I don’t believe I have ever heard (and that is some admission). Garson describes it as one of David’s most beautiful songs, with Moreno doing the honours on Conversation Piece (originally the B-side of The Prettiest Star single and re-recorded in 2002 for an album of retrospectives which sadly was never released).
Mike Garson’s avant-garde jazz piano (which is what David hired him for) on Aladdin Sane.
Alastair Riddell finally finds his voice, or gets the sound he deserves, for Ziggy Stardust, and he is the star, fronting a band he could only dream about.
The routine “it’s over, thanks for coming” song, with the obligatory encore, but this time it was led by a solo with Gerry Leonard playing an acoustic (electrified) demon of a version of Andy Warhol, with just the put-down snarl which one imagines might have been the reaction of the subject, who apparently was none too pleased with “can’t tell them apart at all, at all”
We experienced Life on Mars, we all become Heroes, and a fabulous night’s entertainment came to an end...
But, there is still someone missing...
Bowie Celebration setlist:
1. Bring Me the Disco King (Reality, 2003)
2. Rebel Rebel (Diamond Dogs, 1974)
3. Moonage Daydream (Ziggy, 1972)
4. Fame (Young Americans, 1975)
5. Young Americans (title track,1975)
6. Space Oddity (David Bowie, 1969)
7. Starman (Ziggy, 1972)
8. Lazarus (Blackstar, 2016)
9. Five Years (Ziggy, 1972)
10. Time (Aladdin Sane, 1973)
11. Changes (Hunky Dory, 1971)
12. Ashes to Ashes (Scary Monsters, 1980)
13. I’m Afraid of Americans (Earthling, 1997)
14. Conversation Piece (1969 and 2002)
15. Panic in Detroit (Diamond Dogs, 1974)
16. Aladdin Sane (Title track, 1973)
17. Let’s Dance (Title track 1983)
18. Under Pressure (with Queen, 1982)
19. Ziggy Stardust (Ziggy, 1972)
20. Suffragette City (Ziggy, 1972)
21. All the Young Dudes (Mott the Hoople, 1972)
22. Andy Warhol (Hunky Dory, 1971)
23. Life on Mars (Hunky Dory, 1971)
24. Heroes (Title track, 1977)