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David Bowie tribute at Uptown Theater erupts into a joyous celebration

The Band that Fell to Earth, a tribute to David Bowie, performed Sunday, January 31, 2016 at the Uptown Theater in Kansas City.
The Band that Fell to Earth, a tribute to David Bowie, performed Sunday, January 31, 2016 at the Uptown Theater in Kansas City. Special to the Star

Three weeks after his death, mourning for David Bowie may be subsiding, but thirst for his music is not.

Sunday night, more than 800 Bowie fans attended “The Band That Fell to Earth: A Tribute to David Bowie,” a fundraiser for the Midwest Music Foundation featuring more than two hours of music from more than a dozen Kansas City musicians.

The show initially had been booked at Knuckleheads but was moved to the much larger Uptown Theater at the last minute to meet a growing ticket demand. It was a wise move. The band had no trouble carrying the larger room.

The band was assembled by the event’s organizer, Michelle Bacon (the Philistines), and it included several of our city’s best-known musicians. The core of the band: Bacon (bass), vocalist Steve Tulipana (Season to Risk, Roman Numerals), keyboardist Kyle Dahlquist (Mr. Marco’s V7, the Hardship Letters), drummer Stephanie Williams (Katy Guillen & the Girls), guitarist and vocalist Nathan Corsi (Not a Planet) and guitarist and vocalist Alex Alexander.

On several numbers, the band was joined by jazz saxophonist Rich Wheeler, as many as three backup vocalists — Andrea Tudhope, Rachel Christia (Hearts of Darkness) and Lauren Krum (the Grisly Hand) —and the string section of Betse Ellis (violin) and Clarke Wyatt (cello). And all night, from the side of the stage, Peige Turner delivered sign-language interpretation, often dancing as enthusiastically as the three singers across the stage from her.

The show opened with a sobering overture: The large video screen above and behind the band broadcast the video to “Lazarus,” a track from Bowie’s “Blackstar” album, released on his birthday, two days before his death on Jan. 10. Throughout the rest of the set, that screen would broadcast videos and footage of Bowie.

As “Lazarus” ended, the band took the stage and immediately brightened the mood. With Tulipana taking lead vocals, they launched into “Let’s Dance,” which featured the first of many dandy sax fills and embellishments from Wheeler. Alexander took lead vocals on “Rebel Rebel,” then Corsi sang lead on the rousing “Queen Bitch.” All three were delivered true to the recorded versions.

The set list was loaded generously with hits and favorites, but it included some lesser-known tracks, like the bubbly “Be My Wife,” a song from the “Low” album that started with a rollicking keyboard riff from Dahlquist. Tulipana and Corsi shared vocals on “Ashes to Ashes,” then Tulipana nailed the vocals on “China Girl,” in which Alexander on lead guitar admirably captured the spirit of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s studio version.

All the vocalists closely approximated Bowie’s inimitable vocal styles, including Michael Tipton (who also re-creates the sounds and manners of David Byrne in the Talking Heads tribute band Found a Job). He joined the band for two of the more ebullient moments of the first half: “Modern Love,” which included some lively vocals from the backup singers (and started some singing in the crowd), then “Young Americans,” in which Wheeler, again, re-created another signature sax riff (David Sanborn’s, in this case).

And so it went. A stellar cover of “Fame” opened the second half of the show, which followed an intermission of about 20 minutes. The set list included the rather obscure “TVC 15,” a poppy, bluesy shuffle, a surprisingly affective rendition of the very industrial “I’m Afraid of Americans,” in which Williams did much heavy lifting, and “Rock ’N’ Roll With Me,” a power ballad if Bowie ever wrote one.

A bull-roaring “Suffragette City” set the room aflame; “It Ain’t Easy” left it smoldering. “Ziggy Stardust” featured Corsi’s best vocals of the night.

The finale was outstanding. It started with “Space Oddity,” in which Tudhope joined Corsi on vocals. That segued into “Moonage Daydream,” which featured a deranged but rapturous outburst from Ellis and Wyatt.

The encore was a knockout: “Rock ’N’ Roll Suicide,” then “Under Pressure,” Bowie’s duet with Freddie Mercury that rides one of the most recognizable bass lines in rock music. The song was accompanied by its video, a melancholic reminder that those two idols once graced the earth at the same time.

It was the perfect ending to a night of homage and nostalgia: the big crowd snapping fingers, dancing and singing-along with the band. As he said good night, Tulipana suggested this might be a worthwhile annual event every January, and why not? It is the bleakest of months. This January felt particularly bleak and blue, but the Band That Fell to Earth cast some much-needed warmth upon its final hours.

Timothy Finn: 816-234-4781, @phinnagain

Set list

Let’s Dance; Rebel Rebel; Queen Bitch; Be My Wife; Ashes to Ashes; China Girl; We Are the Dead; Heroes; Modern Love; Young Americans; Boys Keep Swinging; Life On Mars? Intermission. Fame; TVC 15; Blue Jean; I’m Afraid of Americans; Ziggy Stardust; Suffragette City; It Ain’t Easy; Rock ’N’ Roll With Me; Sound and Vision; Space Oddity; Moonage Daydream. Encore: Rock ’N’ Roll Suicide; Under Pressure.

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