FROM THE VAULT: Review of David Bowie “Glass Spider Tour”

11 Jan

 

It wasn’t your average rock and roll show.  Then again, David Bowie isn’t your average rock star.

Bowie’s Glass Spider Tour stopped off at the Pontiac Silverdome on Sept. 12, treating the surprisingly small crowd of 32,000 to one of the most extravagant shows in the history of popular music.

The tour, which reportedly costs around $1 million a week to stage, features a six-story tall mechanical spider, two giant video screens, a host of dancers and a world of theatrics.  The spider, which completely encapsulates the stage, emits several dazzling combinations of lights and also serves as home to numerous platforms from which dancers and musicians do their thing.

The Pontiac show started as longtime Bowie guitarist Carlos Alomar walked alone to center stage and kicked into a blistering guitar solo.  Soon, as if drawn by Alomar’s song, the other members of the band entered, sliding down webs from the top of the spider in a spellbinding visual display.  The band then started a chant which eventually summoned Bowie, who made his entrance by dropping to the stage in a chair which appeared out of the spider’s mouth.

Then Bowie launched his show.  The first part of the 2 1/2 hour set featured newer songs such as “Day in, Day Out” and “China Girl” mixed with more chants, poetry and a lot of well-choreographed dancing.  The total visual impact was in many ways reminiscent of the musical “Cats.”

Don’t, however, get the impression that Bowie’s act was all style and no musical substance.  His band balanced theatrics with some very strong playing.

Peter Frampton, who played guitar on Bowie’s most recent album “Never Let Me Down” has stayed in the fold for the ensuing tour, adding stinging solos throughout the show. At one point, he joined Alomar for a devastating duet on “The Jean Genie” which provided the show’s instrumental highlight.

Yet there remained little doubt that the start of the show was Bowie himself.  At every moment he was in complete control of the band, the stage show and the crowd and he seemed to love it.  He managed to deliver a brilliant performance without relying too heavily on his more familiar material.  This is a good reason why, at age 40, he remains unparalleled as a live performer.

Bowie showed the audience his full vocal repertoire, ranging from the high notes in a smooth, popsy “Never Let me Down” to soulful, inspired takes on classics like “Let’s Dance,” “Young Americans” and “Heroes” which nearly brought the Silverdome roof to the ground.

After leaving the stage, Bowie returned for a five song encore which kicked off with him crooning “Time” from atop the spider’s head.  This was probably the most enjoyable part of the show as Bowie then slid to the stage and donned a guitar before running through a cover of Iggy and the Stooges “I Want to Be Your Dog” (which he introduced by saying “I can’t resist doing this one–it’s a Detroit song. Next, he lent his touches to the Velvet Underground’s “White Light, White Heat”.  A few minutes later he concluded the show with crowd pleasers “Blue Jean” and “Modern Love.”

One major disappointment on this night was the fact that scheduled opening act Little Richard was unable to perform due to an illness.  However, the Bo-Deans, an up-and-coming band from Wisconsin filled in admirably, winning some new fans during a nifty 40-minute set.

It’s not certain what’s next for Bowie.  After the tour, there are plans for a new album as well as rumors that he will pursue some sort of venture (possibly a motion picture) with close friend Mick Jagger.  Whatever it is, it’s bound to be interesting. (Originally published in The Bucs’ Blade, Oct. 8, 1987).

 

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