In a way, David Bowie’s unexpected death last January has freed his songs. Because we are no longer dependent on him to sing them, they are available to everyone to perform as they wish. On Saturday night at the Uptown Theater, the magic happened to come from a couple of the guys who helped create it in the first place.
Drummer Woody Woodmansey is the last surviving member of Bowie’s Spiders From Mars band, the four-piece group that introduced the world to Ziggy Stardust and established Bowie’s legacy and stardom. Tony Visconti played bass on many of Bowie’s early sessions and produced nearly all of his greatest albums.
Performing classic albums in their entirety in concert has become a touring cliché, but for now the move works in Woodmansey and Visconti’s favor. Playing under the name Holy Holy, the pair opened the show with all of 1970’s “The Man Who Sold the World,” the first Bowie album both men worked on together.
Although the title song gained notoriety thanks to covers by Nirvana and Lulu, the rest of the album remains a footnote to Bowie’s glam rock heyday. The relative unfamiliarity of songs like “Black Country Rock” and “Saviour Machine” made the night feel more like an excavation than a covers job. The seven-piece band performed all of the album during the first half of the nearly two-hour set.
Singer Glenn Gregory had big shoes to fill but did a great job inhabiting Bowie’s lyrics. Like an actor delighted with the privilege of reciting Shakespeare, Gregory couldn’t stop beaming. During opening number “The Width of a Circle,” he prowled the stage in a silver leather suit jacket and black leather pants, looking like a lecherous carnival barker. He frequently posed shoulder-to-shoulder with Visconti and ended numbers kneeling, facing Woodmansey’s drums.
The second half featured many of Bowie’s biggest songs from his Spiders period, including more than half of the “Ziggy Stardust” album. A few interesting choices appeared among the hits. Visconti’s daughter Jessica Morgan handled lead vocals on “Lady Stardust.” A medley of three songs featured a head-scratching arrangement that meandered from free-form folk to glam rock to cabaret.
Despite overexposure and decades of wear, Bowie’s biggest songs of the era are as infectious as ever. The audience sang along with every chorus, and everyone seemed to get an especially big kick out of the hand claps in “Space Oddity.”
Over the winter, a David Bowie tribute night hosted by local musicians had to be moved from Knuckleheads to the Uptown after demand soared when Bowie died. With fewer than 200 tickets sold, the crowd at Saturday night’s tribute to Bowie at the Uptown Theater could have fit comfortably at Knuckleheads.
The band acknowledged the disappointing attendance late in the show. Gregory called the audience “small, but perfectly formed,” while Woodmansey tipped his hat to “a great crowd for a lot of empty seats” during his closing remarks. Although this gathering was small, another Bowie tribute show is scheduled for this summer. The thirst to hear his work won’t dry up anytime soon.
The Man Who Sold the World: The Width of a Circle; All the Madmen; Black Country Rock; After All; Running Gun Blues; Saviour Machine; She Shook Me Cold; The Man Who Sold the World; The Supermen. Five Years; Space Oddity; Moonage Daydream; medley: Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud; All the Young Dudes; Oh! You Pretty Things. Changes; Life on Mars? Ziggy Stardust; Lady Stardust; Watch That Man; Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide. Encore: Time; Suffragette City.