Was it coincidence that David Bowie didn’t sing his tour set-list staple, “I’m Afraid of Americans” this go-round? Given the current political climate, one thinks not. But don’t think for one moment that any part of the David Bowie concert with Stereophonics at St. Louis’ Fox Theater was a downer.
Opening the show was Stereophonics—the biggest band the UK (currently) loves to hate. With four albums in their discography, dreamy good looks and the best, gravel-raunchy rock voice in the business, Stereophonics fills stadiums, slags peers and gathers negative critical reviews in the spirit of the huge has-beens Oasis—all the while selling millions of albums.
“We’re called Stereophonics, in case you can’t read,” said the handsome and diminutive singer Kelly Jones as he stood before a silk curtain, beneath the logo with letters larger than his body. A Welsh dragon flag draped the stage and what began as a simple light show with changing blocks of color began to rise and swirl into a psychedelic visual to match the soundscape.
“Very nice theater you have here, very nice indeed. Wouldn’t mind one in my own house,” Kelly said of the Fox. “We were out having a pint with David Bowie last night and he was saying this was his favorite song. So maybe you should listen to keep David happy.” Then they launched into their soon-to-be-a-single, rather Oasis-y, “Maybe Tomorrow.”
Touring in the US steadily since 1996, Stereophonics just can’t seem to get the word out on this side of the pond. “We’re from South Wales,” Kelly said. “We’re fucking massive over there and we’re trying to get fucking massive over here.” Then, he claimed to have also been out with Mick Jagger last night—that’s after hanging out with Bowie, and introduced Mick’s so-called favorite song, the totally ass-kicking, “Help Me [She’s out of her Mind]”. Well, even if Mick didn’t say it, many others do. Bowie’s crowd loved Stereophonics, and as current tastes are moving closer to the raw rock sound of bands like the Strokes, Stereophonics ought to dig into that niche nicely. Check out our interview with the band, to be posted shortly.
Unfortunately for Stereophonics, David Bowie’s A Reality Tour was so spot-on, so engaging, so spiritual that many left the venue forgetting there even was an opening band. A huge board of light ran across the theater, with a cartoon band gathering together, picking up instruments, and jamming. One by one, the lights began to illuminate figures on the stage—live figures playing in front of their own, giant cartoons—with Bowie at the helm. With his model-pretty looks, a purple velvet coat with tails, an impish smile and fashionably floppy yellow hair, Bowie looks better in his fifties than he did in 1978. Maybe it’s plastic surgery(?), maybe it’s clean living, and with those new muscles he’s probably been lifting weights…but whatever he’s doing, he’s got it going on.
Unlike a lot of past Bowie tours full of new material and a sprinkling of classics, this night was filled with old favorites. But then, when you get to be a certain age, with about three dozen albums to your credit, almost everything is an oldie. The show opened with “Rebel, Rebel,” leading into a cover of the Pixies’ “Cactus” and then his hit, “Fashion,” which included his mockery of model runway struts and poses. When did he change? Suddenly the purple velvet was gone and he was in a shimmery black jacket, T-shirt and tie.
Wittier than in past tours, Bowie was full of banter, jokes and sarcasm. Taking a drink of Gatorade between songs he took a breath, looked around and said casually to the thousands in attendance, “So, what are your names?” Stripping down to his t-shirt and tie for his classic with Mott the Hoople, “All the Young Dudes,” he looked closer to sixteen than approaching sixty. Encouraging the audience to sing “China Girl,” he stopped after a few bars, laughing, and said, “That was fucking tragic.” Then he mercifully took over.
Ghostly white branches hung from the ceiling, which sure beat the art-crime murder décor he’d done the stage with for the Outside Tour of 1996. The screen behind showed abstract images: films of hats, bodies, a forest at night. The audience stood for most of the show—not so much to see but because they couldn’t contain their dancing.
“Back in 1970 I recorded this dark side of a nursery rhyme,” he said, explaining that he always had found nursery rhymes interesting. “You know, things like Ring Around A Roses is really about the Plague, that sort of thing. Out of that I came up with the idea of meeting the unmeetable, and facing the face of destiny.” He took a breath, thought about what he’d said and burst out laughing. “Why am I going on like this?” Then he went into “The Man Who Sold the World,” which even the younger ones in the audience were able to sing, thanks to Nirvana’s cover.
For “Hallo Spaceboy,” an elevated catwalk rose to the second level; Bowie walking to greet the balcony with the grace and dimples of an old Hollywood movie star. The full band included Earl Slick, Bowie’s long-time guitarist, Gerry Leonard (guitar), Gail Ann Dorsey (bass/backing vocals), Sterling Campbell (drums), Mike Garson (keyboards and one of the original Spiders from Mars!), multi-instrumentalist and backing vocalist Catherine ‘Cat’ Russell and, of course, the ever-versatile Bowie.
The dark and cool, grass-skirted, bald guitarist Gail Ann Dorsey lent a hand with some of the vocals, and jaws dropped after her heartfelt take on Freddie Mercury’s soulful parts of “Under Pressure.” The lyrics, “Why can’t we give love one more chance?” rang through with special meaning during this wartime. But the highlight of the show may have been “Changes,” which felt like a religious experience to everyone present.
“Wow,” he said, seeming to marvel at the applause. Then, as if making a note to himself, “Right. ‘Changes.’ Put that in the set.” A cover of the Velvet Underground’s “White Light, White Heat” kept the energy to a frenzy before he launched into “Heroes,” changing the mix and tempo at first, and then kicking it back into the old familiar anthem. At about this time, I witnessed a security guard escorting a woman out for throwing herself at him. Who could blame her?
Everybody knew that an hour and forty five minute set would not be it for David Bowie, and they were not disappointed. He rejoined with the band for an encore to blow us all away. His powder blue conductor’s jacket was the first hint: he launched into “Station to Station,” followed by “Suffragette City,” and “Ziggy Stardust.”
I guess when you’ve been around that long, you get it right.
St. Louis May 11th 2004
01 Rebel Rebel (from Diamond Dogs)
02 New Killer Star (from Reality)
03 Battle for Britain (The Letter) (from Earthling)
04 Cactus (from Heathen)
05 Fashion (from Scary Monsters)
06 Hang On To Yourself (from Ziggy Stardust)
07 All The Young Dudes (from the Aladdin Sane sessions)
08 China Girl (from Let's Dance)
09 Afraid (from Heathen)
10 The Loneliest Guy (from Reality)
11 The Man Who Sold The World (from Man Who Sold the World)
12 A New Career In A New Town (from Low)
13 Be My Wife (from Low)
14 Hallo Spaceboy (from Outside)
15 Sunday (from Heathen)
16 Heathen (The Rays) (from Heathen)
17 Under Pressure (from the Queen album Hot Space)
18 Days (from Reality)
19 Changes (from Hunky Dory)
20 Ashes To Ashes (from Scary Monsters)
21 Quicksand (from Hunky Dory)
22 White Light, White Heat (from the Velvet Underground album White Light/White Heat)
23 "Heroes" (from "Heroes")
24 Station To Station (from Station to Station)
25 Suffragette City (from Ziggy Stardust)
26 Ziggy Stardust (from Ziggy Stardust)
[Thanks to former NTer, Mike Glader, for the complete setlist!]
Photo by Leo Weisman