From pop to rock, punk and beyond, the music of David Bowie continues to inspire a new generation of musicians exploring issues of identity and escapism while refusing to kneel to expectation. Dua Lipa’s ‘Future Nostalgia’ (one of 2020’s biggest albums) owes a lot to 1983’s ‘Let’s Dance’, we simply wouldn’t have Harry Styles’ recent single ‘Treat People With Kindness’ without the Thin White Duke and Yungblud‘s latest album ‘Weird!’ sees the pop-rock titan proudly wear his Starman influences on his sleeve. It might be five years since his passing, but Bowie’s art has never felt more influential.
READ MORE: An oral history of David Bowie’s ‘Blackstar’ – five years on from his death
If you ever needed proof of Bowie’s far-reaching impact, look no further than the guestlist for tonight’s show. ’80s legends Duran Duran and Boy George both pay their respects with theatrical renditions of ‘Five Years’ and an ‘Aladdin Sane’ medley respectively, while British rockers Peter Frampton and Def Leppard frontman Joe Elliot perform tracks from ‘The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars’ with a giddy, childlike excitement.
Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan appears via a vintage television sat atop Garson’s piano for a soaring, fragile rendition of ‘Space Oddity’, while fellow ’90s alt-rock survivor Perry Farrell is joined by wife Etty Lou for a show-stopping burlesque performance of ‘The Man Who Sold The World’. Hollywood heavyweight Gary Oldman gives the agony-riddled ‘I Can’t Read’ a heart-wrenching heft, while Take That’s Gary Barlow and his dad-dancing appear via life-size video screen for a wonderfully over the top take on ‘Fame’. It’s an eclectic mix of artists – but what better way to celebrate Bowie’s far-reaching impact?
The concert is held together by The David Bowie Alumni Experience, an array of musicians who had worked with Bowie over the years, and collaborations happened in-person and virtually. Gail Ann Dorsey, who often duetted with The Starman onstage, takes the spotlight for blistering versions of ‘Can You Hear Me’ and ‘Strangers When We Meet’, while The Rolling Stones’ regular collaborator Bernard Fowler gives ‘Sweet Thing’ and ‘Candidate’ a gritty, soaring drama. Garson originally conceived a different version on the show as a live tour, and he’s got a ready-made frontman in Charlie Sexton, who leads a fuzzy, bass-driven take on ‘Let’s Dance’, a lip-curling ‘Rebel, Rebel’ and an emotional ‘Blue Jean’, while also adding guitar to a stunning Macy Gray-led ‘Changes’.
Later on, Ricky Gervais introduces a supergroup made up of Slipknot’s Corey Taylor, Foo Fighters’ Taylor Hawkins and Jane’s Addiction’s Dave Navarro and Chris Chaney, who return Gervais’ gentle ribbing (“there’s a band I haven’t heard of, Ground Control – are they any good?”) with a snippet of ‘Little Fat Man’ (the track Bowie performed on Gervais’ sitcom Extras) sandwiched between garage rock takes on ‘Rock n Roll Suicide’ and ‘Hang On To Yourself’. Elsewhere Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross team up with Garson for a suitably doom-mongering and emotionally intense ‘Fantastic Voyage’, before dialling up the funk for ‘Fashion’, which even Reznor can’t resist dancing along too.
Despite the rolling cast of vocalists, this show never feels like karaoke. Instead of simple covers, these heartfelt re-imaginings of hits and deep cuts alike are poignant and personal. Of course the likes of ‘The Jean Genie’, ‘Suffragette City’ and ‘Under Pressure’ are iconic, but Bowie was never precious about his music and that’s taught these disciples of his craft to add their own personality to every performance. Adam Lambert’s charismatic take on ‘Starman’ is as assured as they come, while Judith Hill and Andra Day’s soulful reworking of ‘Under Pressure’ is a standout moment in a night of plenty.
Bowie was all about “getting you to feel who you really are,” according to Garson, who also explains that ”seeing David’s music passed onto a new generation just warms my heart.” So it’s fitting that three of the best performances came from the youngest artists involved. The Pretty Reckless’ vocalist Taylor Momsen gives a heart-twisting performance of ‘Quicksand’, leaning into its feelings of confusion, isolation and uncertainty with a knowing confidence, while YouTube drum sensation Nandi Bushell’s appearance during the Fowler-fronted finale of ‘Heroes’ might be the most joyfully passionate performance of the night. Suited and booted, Yungblud’s snarling take on ‘Life On Mars’ sees the track as defiant and community-driven as ever, the outspoken bubblegum punk letting Bowie’s music do all the talking.
it’s rare in this life that you meet someone who shaped your whole existence. i felt like i was on a different planet last night. he was there and i was with him. it was truly one of the the greatest moments of my fookin life. thankyou for everything starman.🖤⚡️ @DavidBowieReal pic.twitter.com/GhwePF1dAg
— YUNGBLUD’s on mars (@yungblud) January 10, 2021
Instead of looking back in mourning, this concert is a celebration of the wealth of music David Bowie left behind, as well as a legacy that only continues to grow. The concert might be just for one day, but it’s a timely reminder that Bowie is forever.