David Bowie Sings For BowieNet Users Despite Vocal Troubles

Singer cancels one gig but comes back to do an exclusive concert for BowieNet users.

NEW YORK — Rock chameleon and cyber-businessman

COLOR="#003163">David Bowie performed for subscribers of his

artist-run Internet service provider, BowieNet, on Monday night at

Roseland Ballroom despite voice trouble that led the singer to cancel a

Saturday performance — the second date of a two-night stand for the general public.

Bowie sang his voice away during a marathon performance on Friday,

according to a spokesperson for the singer who preferred not to be

named. But Bowie recovered in time to perform the show scheduled

exclusively for members of his official online community,

www.davidbowie.com.

Fans who had come from as far away as Japan and Australia to attend the

concert — which coincided with the launch of BowieNet's Version 2

— were concerned about the singer's ability to perform. "We want

him to have a voice. And if not, we expect karaoke," said Bonnie Powell, editor of Bowie-fan newsletter The Lazy and Web-Impaired.

Dispelling the fears for his voice, Bowie opened the show by scaling the operatic "Wild Is the Wind" with apparent ease. Striding onstage to the strains of "I'll Take Manhattan," the preternaturally youthful artist looked more like a member of Hanson than a middle-aged rock star. He apologized to members of the crowd who'd held tickets for the canceled show. "It's the first time I ever had to do that in my career," Bowie said. "I might have to ask you to help me out on the choruses."

The unconditional love of the fan-club-style crowd made for a uniquely

relaxed and basking Bowie, who at one point told the audience that he

had "to pee" as he went offstage to change costumes. The costume changes themselves evoked wild applause as Bowie went from sailor-boy shirt to a succession of neo-mod jackets to go with his '60s-meets-'90s

shoulder-length shag haircut.

Classics Edge Out Obscurities

This audience, including George Parry, a fan who counted this as his

hundredth Bowie show, would have cheered an evening of his obscurities

(the forgotten kalimba-folk workout "Janine" was among the loud fan

shout-outs), but Bowie stuck mainly to a hit parade for the casual

listener, with even his latest album, Hours ..., edged out

entirely by his 1970s and '80s classics.

Amid a minimal light show, Bowie delivered a more hits-oriented set than was his norm in the '90s, including "China Girl" (

HREF="http://www.sonicnet.com/artists/clip.cgi?track=%7Ej-XXXXXX%2F1443102182000b11.ra">RealAudio excerpt), "Changes" and "Heroes" (RealAudio excerpt), in perhaps the least-reworked form of his career.

An inspired band helped keep things fresh during the nearly three-hour

concert, highlighted by the silent-movie/cocktail-lounge-style keyboards of Mike Garson, the muscular bass and vocals of Gail Ann Dorsey and the avant-metal guitar of perennial Bowie hired gun Earl Slick.

But the unexpected reared its head, as it often does at a Bowie gig, in

this case with hip reinventions of two songs that not only predate his

fame but also nearly predate his name. "I Dig Everything" and "The

London Boys" were released in the mid-1960s, shortly after Bowie ceded

his given name of David Jones to Monkees singer Davey Jones; Bowie sang them Monday night for the first time in more than three decades.

Another surprise was a gorgeous ethno-ambient jam that morphed into

"Let's Dance" (RealAudio excerpt), which left the crowd curious as to what the changeling rocker's next musical direction would be.

A Longtime Pioneer

Such risky change has been the only constant in Bowie's career —

the forward-thinking artist already was promoting albums with music

videos on satellite television in 1976, according to Circus

magazine — and it recently has taken the form of exploration on the digital frontier.

BowieNet, which is a music portal and information resource, offers

extensive exclusive audio and fan-artist interaction opportunities, in

addition to e-mail and other conventional Internet service provider

features.

At a news conference before the show, Bob Goodale, president and chief

strategy officer of UltraStar — which runs BowieNet and other

online entertainment projects and which co-sponsored the show with

computer-chip giant Intel and interactive online-audio provider Beatnik

— said that this was not a hands-off vanity vehicle for the singer. "He's involved in everything," Goodale said. "People wake up dreading the e-mails he's sent with the nine ideas he dreamed up last night."

Scott Cohen, president of the Orchard, the leading distributor of

major-label and indie albums to online stores and download sites, said

he thinks Bowie's prospecting in the Silicon Rush is a sound move, even

if it needs a real-world component such as the Roseland concert to

attract and sustain subscribers. "This is part of the transitional phase

where the online and offline communities must work together," Cohen

said. "When music ultimately becomes easy to access digitally from any

device in any location, there [will be] no more 'offline.' [But] the

live music performance [will] never disappear."