Monday, January 11, 2016

In memory of the Thin White Duke: David Bowie always rocked in concert

We've lost one of the greats: The multi-talented and unsurpassed David Bowie lost his battle with cancer Sunday. He was 69.

David Bowie gestures in a performance during his 1987 "Glass Spider" world tour.
Bowie has been, and will always, be my favorite performer.

The Thin White Duke was a showman among showman. The classy British rock legend -- and he truly was legendary -- had charisma; he truly commanded the stage with his presence.

I've had the honor of seeing Bowie in concert six times.

You never forget your first time -- Sept. 28, 1987 at the Capital Center in Landover, MD. It was my first rock show.

My late father was gracious enough to drove me and three of my friends to see it. Dad stayed in the Capital Center's "parents waiting room" during the ultra-theatrical show; Dad later said he probably could hear the show as well -- if not better -- as we could.

I also will remember the last time I saw Bowie in concert -- Jan. 7, 2004.

Bowie plays acoustic guitar during his Sept. 27, 1990 show
during the Rock in Chile Festival.
The Cleveland State University show was one day before Bowie turned 57. And somehow his voice was as strong, if not stronger, as it was 17 years earlier.

Bowie's 2004 "Reality" set list was a thing of beauty -- a mix of classic tunes, crowd-pleasers, new material and rarities.

Unlike during the "Glass Spider" tour, he chatted with the crowd. But as with most of his shows, he let the music do the talking.

As the years went by, Bowie loosened up and cracked a few jokes.

I remember during the show I saw on his 1990 "Sound + Vision" world tour (better known as his "greatest hits tour"), he made a crack about the backwards-masking controversy surrounding the heavy metal band Judas Priest. Bowie told the Columbia, MD crowd there's no way the group inserted hidden messages on their 33 LPs (remember those?!), cracking "they're not smart enough." I'm not sure if Bowie was serious and or if once again, he was using his tongue-and-cheek humor. Didn't matter; it was funny and got a big laugh from the audience.

Before the same show -- June 18, 1990, the first of Bowie's two-night stay at Merriwether Post Pavilion, we'd been told there was a noise curfew. The concert wasn't supposed to go past 10 p.m.

Bowie didn't care; he wasn't about to finish his 2-plus hour show until he was good and ready. He even pointedly told the crowd he cared less, unleashing an "f-bomb" that delighted the crowd.

Bowie sings during his 1995-'96 "Outside" tour.
Bowie regularly told interviewers over the years he didn't enjoy touring -- aside from the first five or six shows. But you'd never know it. He always put forth a great effort and was genuinely gracious with the crowd's response.

Even when Bowie's 1995-'96 "Outside" tour setlist focused on his newer material and included no big hits (except for his duet with bassist Gail Ann Dorsey on "Under Pressure" -- recorded with Queen originally in 1981), he produced a great show. That Oct. 6, 1995 conert is when I first noticed Bowie's baritone seemed to be coming up from his toes at times. ...

Besides, who else can say they saw Nine Inch Nails open for, and then perform with Bowie?

Bowie's shadowy presence at the back of the stage near the end of the NIN set elicited screams of delight. The man always knew how to make an entrance. ... (Maybe that's a CCC post for another day.) 

It's fitting I saw Bowie in concert the last time in Cleveland.

After all, that's where he made his U.S. debut (Sept. 22, 1972 at the Public Auditorium's Public Hall) -- the first of his domestic Ziggy Stardust shows. The Jan. 9, 2004 concert also was 12 years and a day before he died. And was the last tour he did.

Each of the six Bowie concerts I experienced were memorable.

Bowie peforms Dec. 15, 2003 during his 2003-'04 "A Reality" world tour
at Madison Square Garden in New York.
The only time I missed my man coming to the Maryland-DC area was when during his failed Tin Machine experiment.

(I was in college and didn't know about the gig until it was too late. But my best friend Darrell Ferguson (aka Haji) and traveled a couple hours one way for a looong night to break up my family's Ocean City, MD vacation to catch the 1990 show -- so it's not like I wasn't willing to make the effort! But note to other hardcore concertgoers: Never try eating Taco Bell on the road. Baaad decision, that one! Right, Haji?!?)

Trying to pick my favorite Bowie show is only slightly easier than picking my favorite songs or albums (looking for those op-eds later), but if I had to choose, it would be the 2004 show.

Bowie was in great voice and as with the other concerts, DB pulled out a few rarities I hadn't heard previously. Hearing "Fantastic Voyage" during the encore set -- and closing with "Ziggy Stardust"?! I have chills just typing that memory!

I had a great run from 1995 through 1997. (And I still have all the concert T-shirts!)

Not only did I see the Bowie-NIN double bill during his "Outside" world tour, I caught one of the handful of 1996 shows he did in the New York-DC area while he was recording his 1997 EARTHLING album. (Still have My buddy Twig (whom I nicknamed after Twig the Wonder Kid from a lyric in "Drive-In Saturday") returned to the Capital Ballroom almost exactly a year later to see our main man for his DC "Earthling" show.

We were 30 or so feet from the Man himself. He waved to me once. And smiled. I'll never forget it.

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