The David Bowie Tribute Reaches Radio City Music Hall Last Night, Review
By Ed Power, 2 APRIL 2016 • 11:42AM, Reposted from The Telegraph (here)
The outpouring of grief following the passing of David Bowie went beyond the superficial shock a celebrity death typically elicits. Three months on, most of us are finally past the point of welling up whenever Life on Mars? comes on the radio. Yet a rawness endures and that was in evidence as a heavyweight cast of Thin White Duke contemporaries, acolytes and distant admirers assembled at New York’s Radio City Music Hall to honour his life and career.
It was the second such memorial in as many nights, with a number of the same performers having already paid homage at an earlier Carnegie Hall show (that event had been announced when Bowie was still alive, with the singer himself expected to attend). But Radio City was the main attraction, with some 6,000 watching live and tens of thousands tuning in via a webstream.
Given Bowie’s eclecticism, it was appropriate that the line-up should be a glittering rag-tag. It is certainly difficult to imagine another evening that could bring together bearded banjo bashers Mumford and Sons, psychedelic pranksters The Flaming Lips (joined by a man dressed as a Chewbacca from Star Wars) and Ann Wilson of big-haired Eighties rockers Heart. The unifying figure was Bowie’s long-time producer Tony Visconti, leading a house band that included Ziggy Stardust-era drummer Woody Woodmansey
A tribute concert can be a tricky proposition, as Bowie himself discovered with his much-derided recital of the Lord’s Prayer at the 1992 Freddie Mercury memorial at Wembley. Yet, the tone at Radio City was dignified and true to Bowie’s questing spirit. Jazz fusionist Esperanza Spalding evoked the singer’s high-soaring derring-do with her sci-fi tilt at If You Can See Me while a feverish interpretation of Blackstar (by Amanda Palmer, Anna Calvi and Jherek Bischoff) acknowledged the fascinating music Bowie was making right until the end. Not everyone plunged so deeply and darkly, with Mumford and Sons and Blondie bashing out straight-forwardly emotive readings of It Ain’t Easy and Heroes.
The best moment was the strangest too. Michael Stipe’s reading of Ashes to Ashes was an anti-cover version in which the ex-REM frontman, backed by model/singer Karen Elson, whispered Bowie’s lyrics from behind a vast scruffy beard that made him look like Father Christmas fallen on hard times.
Stipe’s was absolutely the right approach, capturing Bowie’s daring even as he took the song somewhere weird and yet ineffably sad. His performance confirmed that if the night was a celebration it was also a wake and many in the audience will have felt the tears return unbidden.