DETROIT -- Paint flaked off the ceiling like a heavy Detroit snowfall. Or so it seemed.
Then again as David Bowie has proven time and again, things are not always what they seem. The man never ceases to amaze. He is the total chameleon of rock. Changing costumes, images and musical styles like most rockers change hair styles.
Whatever he is at a given moment, it's always near the edge of a trend.
And while recently he's been accused more of hopping on trends than being too far ahead of them, there's no arguing one would have to sift back through his catalog some 20 years to find music that's just starting to become relevant today.
The shows on his most recent tour have found him digging out some of his classics such as "Scary Monsters," as well as dusty rockers such as "Stay" from his Station to Station album. Thanks to Reeves Gabrels, who lit up the guitar for this number during Sunday night's show at State Theater, doing his non-chalant act while blasting out chord after chord, Bowie proved once more his old songs remain as relevant as ever.
But who's heard that song before? And how does it fit right in, sandwiched between some of the heavier "jungle" tracks from his most recent discs such as "Little Wonder," the lead track from Earthling, and "Hallo Spaceboy" from Outside? Two decades of music -- but judging from their sound, they could have easily been written sequentially for the same disc.
A more intimate Bowie was playing to a packed house for the first of two sold-out shows in the 3,200-person venue. His menu on this tour of smaller-than-stadium venues has been fairly stylized, musically, flowing through a string of beat-laden songs from a good selection of his albums.
Leading off the show with "Quicksand," Bowie soloed on the first few verses accompanying himself on acoustic guitar. As the song took off, midway through, however, his band lifted the sound to another level, then ducked under a cover of the Velvet Underground's "Waiting for the Man" and a bluesy "The Jean Genie." The Duke launched into songs from Earthling building up to his commercial hit "Under Pressure" which was, oddly, the one that finally pushed the audience over the top as if sending them into a new musical orbit.
Gail Ann Dorsey, who's been playing bass and backing Bowie's vocals for the last couple of tours took a stab at Freddie Mercury's vocal parts for this number, and demonstrated she can hold her own.
Bowie has said he's doing these smaller shows because he wants to. And although cynics point to the lack of sales of his more recent efforts as the real reason, Bowie does seem to be really enjoying the intimacy that these shows afford him. He presses the flesh, jokes with the crowd, points and calls out to people.
He also spends a lot more time bantering between songs, sometimes
making rather odd comments. There are three things to look for in good rock 'n' roll, he told the audience. Fulfilling melodies, spiritual enlightenment and the perfect pair of breasts. He then broke into "Fashion" and paraded around the stage a bit doing runway poses. It was classic Bowie: the actor, the innovator, the enigma.
With a potent backup band, Bowie's almost
un-paralleled charisma and never-ending catalog, all set against a constant swirl of visual stimuli, it was hard to find fault with this show, except maybe for the paint flaking off the ceiling. [Tues., Sept. 23, 1997, 6 p.m. PDT]