22 April 2016

Chameleon, comedian, Corinthian & caricature

Bowie: Waiting in the Sky
St James
16 April 2016

Last Saturday a full house gathered at the St James in Wellington for the second of three New Zealand 'Waiting in the Sky' tribute concerts for David Bowie. It’s not hard to select a crowd-pleasing setlist from such an awe-inspiring back catalogue, but it’s fitting that organiser Eddie Rayner included a few recent cuts from Black Star, sung with distinction by The Veils’ Finn Andrews. But understandably, most of the material was hit-focused, and there were plenty of those to choose from (58 UK top 40 singles from 1969 to 2002, according to Everyhit.com).

The performers were an eclectic mix, with the nominal lead vocals chiefly alternating between former Space Waltz glamster Alastair Riddell, now avuncular and black-suited, who offered a deft handling of Kooks and Changes from Hunky Dory and led the finale on “Heroes”, and Aucklander Zaine Griff, who was invited to cut a few tracks with Bowie in 1979, and now cuts a fine flouncing figure in purple weskit, deploying well-honed crowd patter. Griff’s highlight was an engagingly dramatic reworking of Cat People (Putting Out Fire).

The concert felt a little thrown-together, in part due to short rehearsal times and the absence from the Wellington gig of Jordan Luck, who performed in Auckland and Christchurch, but also due to the addition of a handful of younger Australian-based performers. This generated a sneaking suspicion that the New Zealand gigs were tacked onto a similar Australian package, and led to mild confusion at the presence of these young Australians on the billing. Where were the Bowie-enthralled young local artists who deserved this stage exposure?

But it turned out that the most notable of the Australians was ex-Aucklander and now Melburnian Skyscraper Stan, who in copying Bowie’s 1974 Dutch TV red jumpsuit costume was at least authentically kooky. His rendition of the notoriously tricky lyric of Young Americans rose to the challenge. The bobbed would-be starlet Olympia performed serviceably on several numbers, particularly the Bowie/Alomar/Lennon co-write Fame, but the main emphasis seemed to be on her glamorous costume changes. One of the backing vocalists, Reb Fountain from The Eastern, also duetted with Stan on a decent version of Sorrow.

Reviewer Simon Sweetman offered his traditionally snarky take on proceedings, suggesting that the whole occasion smacked of an opportunistic money-grab. Perhaps, but ultimately a full house of Wellingtonians were able to celebrate the music they loved with performers who did a good job. To me that sounds like a good opportunity to take.

See also:
Music: David Bowie Is, 22 September 2015
Music: Sukita-Bowie / Speed of Life, 16 September 2012
Music: In the lair of the Goblin King, 12 July 2009
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