Led by pianist Mike Garson, the band’s performance Sunday at The Agora in Cleveland was as versatile and moving as the music of the late Rock & Roll Hall of Fame member. The musicians performed everything from funk to rock to ballads to psychedelic rock to soul.
Garson, who first performed with Bowie during his Ziggy Stardust days, led a group, which included two more DB recording and touring veterans — lead guitarist Earl Slick and bassist Carmine Rojas. For Slick, the lineup was a family affair; his son, Lee John, is the regular drummer for the David Bowie Alumni Band and John’s wife was one of several back-up vocalists Sunday.
Three singers took turns wowing the audience with their tremendous voices and mesmerizing interpretations of Bowie’s music.
Bernard Fowler, who has sung with The Rolling Stones since 1989, has been a regular with the David Bowie Alumni Band since its origins. His strong baritone and uncanny onstage charisma are a great match for the Bowie catalog. Fowler’s interpretations of the uplifting soul number “Win” and the moody ballad “Sweet Thing/Candidate” — two of the deepest album cuts in the set list — were highlights of Sunday’s concert.
Guatemala native and singer-songwriter Gaby Moreno made her debut Sunday with “Space Oddity,” playing a 12-string acoustic guitar. Her version of “Five Years” was nothing short of spine-tingling.
Garson told the crowd what this lifelong Bowiehead has thought since I heard Moreno the first time with the band in Michigan, nearly a year to the day — he wondered how such a big voice comes from such a small body. He also said the Cleveland concert was Moreno’s last with the band for a while as she was returning to her solo tour.
Moreno and Fowler turned the melancholy ballad “Wild is the Wind” into a duet; the word “powerful” doesn’t do their performance justice.
The last of the lead vocalists, Living Colour founder and funk singer Corey Glover, energized the crowd each time he took the stage. He was more than up to the task of handling Bowie’s fast-moving lyrics in “Young Americans” (his first song of the night). During “Suffragette City,” Glover got the audience singing “Hey man!” during the verses and he walked into the crowd as the show-stopper reached its climax. Glover and Moreno joined Lee’s wife to provide background vocals when they weren’t center-stage.
The set list focused on Bowie’s music from the 1970s. The only exceptions were the opener, “Bring Me the Disco King” (2003), “Ashes to Ashes” (one of Bowie’s few No. 1 hits) and the Queen-Bowie classic, “Under Pressure.” Fowler handled Bowie’s part while Glover covered Freddie Mercury. They were so impressive and inspired such an energetic response from the crowd that Garson afterward joked, “Freddie who?”
Garson started the concert by sharing how special it was to return to Cleveland, the American city where Bowie made his U.S. debut as Ziggy Stardust. Once the Sept. 22, 1972 show concluded at the Cleveland Public Auditorium, Garson said he remembered that Bowie and the rest of his band ran off the stage while he collected his music at the piano and thousands of fans rushed the stage and “attacked me.”
“I was from the jazz world; I’m not used to that,” added Garson, who was Bowie’s most frequent musician.
The first encore in Sunday’s concert was “Life on Mars?” — admittedly one of Garson’s favorite Bowie songs.
Before starting it, the pianist brought young Julian Culver to the corner of the stage; the boy was dressed as Ziggy Stardust from the 1973 “Life on Mars?” video — complete with dyed red hair, blue makeup around his eyes, a powder-blue suit and of course, platform shoes. The boy sat beside Garson as he played the song and then was center stage when Moreno took his hand to sing some of the closing lyrics with her. (A complete video of the performance is on the “Cary Ashby - reporter & comic book blogger” Facebook page as a Facebook Live recording.) Several fans asked for photographs with and/or of Culver after the concert.
The David Bowie Alumni Band put on a spectacular show. The Thin White Duke himself would be proud of the legacy the musicians are continuing. Grade: A
Follow lifelong Bowie fan and Reflector staff writer Cary Ashby on Facebook at “Cary Ashby — reporter & comic book blogger” and on Twitter at @Cary_reporter.
Set list for the concert Sunday at The Agora in Cleveland:
Bring Me the Disco King
Ashes to Ashes
Wild is the Wild
All the Young Dudes
Encores: Life on Mars?