The David Bowie Tribute At Carnegie Hall, Thursday, March 31st, 2016, Reviewed
Michael Stipe claimed that “whether David is in the room or somewhere else, his spirit is here tonight”, before a stupendously stupid take on “Ashes To Ashes” performed as a whisper (why? artistic interpretation should make some sort of sense in original context… how does whispering add to our understanding of Space Oddity Part Two?). Well, if Bowie was in the room he was throwing up all over these Second Tier singers.
I know what you’re going to read, you know what you are going to read, but this was not good on any level: they are lying. To start with, Tomas Doncker wondered why the band had no groove? Why? Why was there no dance music? Because there were no black performers except for Bettye Lavette, who released her version of “It Ain’t Easy” back in 1972, and gave a fine performance of it last night. I don’t know where to begin with the terribleness of losing The Roots last night (here). I don’t even like the band, but not having them changed the entire complexion of the night, it is like taking “A Day In The Life” off Sgt Pepper, it is only one song (in the Roots case, “Aladdin Sane”, which we didn’t need, and “Fame” which we certainly did need), but it put a #blacklifesmatteredtoBowie question mark over the entire proceedings.
Every year that dork Michael Dorf trudges out bands that can fill Radio City but not MSG, who perform under rehearsed songs from some “A Listers” Greatest Hits, for charity. I’ve been twice before, the Rolling Stones tribute was OK though not great, the Prince tribute was saved by D’Angelo and Bilal (another black no show last night) but was almost as bad as this was. It always sucks but at least they’ve rehearsed at City Winery in the past, they hadn’t for this show and man did it show.
Instead of the Roots, who are pros at adapting to other artists needs, they got a variant on Tony Visconti meh Holy Holy Bowie cover band. Oh yeah, drummer Woody Woodmansey’s Holy Holy. Woody is a great drummer, no doubt. And he was easily the best thing about the house band. But, in the great Carnegie Hall, the sound was muddled. You heard me, every electric song sounded like sludge. And the band didn’t adapt to anybody, it was essentially glam Bowie and folk Bowie -that was it. Nothing from Black Star or The Next Day, and plenty from Hunky Dory and Ziggy. What the fuck? Whose Bowie was it?
The acoustics destroyed Cyndi Lauper’s opening under micced “Suffragette City”, Holy Holy’s “The Width Of A Circle” was also hurt by the sound and lead singer Glenn Gregory (once so great with Heaven 17), a poseur who at least managed to nail the “turn around go back” hook but that’s about it. Robyn Hitchcock’s “Soul Love” was stupendously unmemorable, Laurie Anderson was alright on “Always Crashing In The Same Car” but as artists go, she is missing the song as usual, Gogol Bordello are too weird for “Breaking Glass” but, finally, Debbie Harry brings it home with “Starman”. She gets the audience standing for one of the few times. The roar of approval is absolute proof of the evening’s earlier lameness. The audience want to be thrilled but they aren’t, it took Debbie singing through everything to connect with us.
But even so, that’s the problem with multi-artist shows singing a song a person, there’s zero momentum and you’re only as good as your last song, so hope and pray you never have to sit through Joseph Arthur’s lameass guitar looped “The Man Who Sold The World” which would’ve been the nadir but he would really have to pick a number.
The best three songs of the evening began with the Mountain Goat’s piano based “Word On A Wing”, though in the rush for the best moment of the evening, J. Masci and Sean Lennon come in second to Debbie with a beautiful “Quicksand”, two acoustic guitars, every note ringing through the Hall. Next was Betty, also great, but then we’re back in business: Perry Farrell could not sing “Rebel Rebel” but looked divine. Cat Power was in fine voice for “Five Years”, Ann WIlson in fine voice for “Let’s Dance” but it was the wrong song. Stipe’s pathetic rethink of “Ashes To Ashes”, lead to the Pixies covering Bowie covering the Pixies on “Cactus” off Heathen. I hated it, Tomas, who once toured with the Pixies when Tomas was least guitarist in James Chance’s band, loved them.
Actually, that isn’t the only time Tomas Doncker and I differed. He loved Michael Stipe, and he loved Ricki Lee Jones “All The Young Dudes”. I thought Jones should’ve played it with a full band, where her eccentric vocals might’ve played off better. Jakob Dylan’s “Heroes” was karaoke time. I can’t wear the Flaming Lips, but that was a gorgeous “Life On Mars” and “Space Oddity” from Choir! Choir! with a full teen choir and the entire ensemble on stage is no way at all to close out the night. Why not “Ziggy Stardust”? Were they keeping it for today at Radio City Music Hall?
As tributes go, the only way for this to be worse is if it had been a Christopher Cross Greatest Hits. The most recent song was from 2002, everything else was from the Golden Years, while ignoring anything that made him in the slightest bit funky. There was no groove, no excitement, the sound was mostly botched in a Hall where there is simply no excuse or botching sound, it was an unrehearsed bore and the best thing you can say about the proceedings is that it was over in two hours? What happened to Dorf’s promise of special guests (Patti Smith lost her voice and was another no show)?
Fuck your idols,this sucked. I wouldn’t go tonight if you paid me.