You rarely hear the Thin White Duke anymore. And I’ll be honest, I never stream the tracks, although “Moonage Daydream” is emblazoned on my brain and I find myself singing it all the time.
But this assemblage did not play that, nor did they play my other favorite, “Somebody Up There Likes Me.” The latter hit the airwaves when I was financially-challenged and sleeping in my car, at least for one night, outside the Hart ski warehouse in Reno, I heard the track and… It’s anthemic, overblown, as if its maker believes he’s ruler of the universe and everybody must pay attention, and soon everybody did like David Bowie, but primarily for “Fame,” which I still cannot cotton to, and the title cut of that LP, “Young Americans.” However, I do have a fascination with “Fascination,” it sounds like it was cut in the dark, long after dark. But that’s what being a Bowie fan is all about, not loving the alien so much as loving the album tracks.
I bought “Ziggy Stardust” because I was in the U.K. and Bowie was all over the weekly music rags, even though he meant absolutely nothing in the U.S. I remember lying on my bed after dropping the needle and hearing “Five Years,” this guy was making a statement, not that I was sure what it was at that point.
And I went to see that tour at the Boston Music Hall. One of the greatest shows ever, with the opening to the “Clockwork Orange” theme and the strobe lights and the lights up encore of “Around and Around.” Bowie had to convince us all at once, but we already were, yet it took a while for everybody else to get on board.
Eventually it was “Space Oddity” and “Changes” that hooked the mainstream. And the MTV comeback was massive, even bigger than the first time around, with “Let’s Dance,” which I thought was a cheap shot, although I did buy the album, you always did, you were invested, but then Bowie took one left turn after another and the hoi polloi disconnected but insiders always paid attention, you thought Bowie might connect one more time and now…
That’s right. There’s a tour of his outfits and stuff, and I recommend it, but radio only focuses on the hits and the rest tends to fall away, until the renaissance. Which in Bowie’s case will be more about imaging and staging than the music, because at this late date the music is sui generis, Bowie exists in his own bubble.
But I’m still a fan, like I said, but David doesn’t warrant a ton of mindshare. But when his name comes up…
And I got an invitation to go to the Swing House out in Glendale, east of the 5, maybe it’s technically Atwater Village, who knows, but it’s certainly far away, and normally I say no, but how could you when Todd Rundgren and Adrian Belew are involved?
Todd is not that different from Bowie, in that he follows his own muse and refuses to repeat himself. As for Adrian Belew… An undercover giant, if you know him, you want to see him live, and I never had, so I went.
It was a charity event, a rehearsal for gigs in Iceland, with a string section and orchestra but this…
Was positively rock and roll.
This was not for twentysomethings, certainly not teenagers. This was for people who remembered when, when staying home was anathema and you went to the gig not to be seen, but to connect with what was on stage.
And having hung so much this week I punted on the reception but when I got there the music had just begun. And it wasn’t long before I was enraptured, it went on for two hours and forty minutes, there were probably fifty or sixty or people there, but it was the essence of what once was, and therefore stunningly alive today. It was a secret show, you didn’t know. But what we had was an assemblage of musicians on stage sans effects not playing to track, just putting forth the compositions of a genius, with EMPHASIS! There were few in the audience, but they were playing like it counted. You remember, when the music meant everything.
And Adrian was there, but Todd was not. Others were singing songs. Angelo Moore of Fishbone, had I come this far for…
And then they introduced the Wizard, the True Star, and he strode up to the microphone and sang…
“It’s a godawful small affair”
That’s the thing, you knew what they were playing by the intros, except when you didn’t. The goal was to play songs from every era, but after singing one number Todd exclaimed “Nobody knows that!” And there were no protests from the audience but Todd had broken protocol, and that’s what’s absent from music today, nobody wants to be an outsider, a party of one, and that’s what Todd is, and Bowie too, and…
Needless to say, the band was tight, to hear Belew in action was a marvel but…
Todd’s paid his dues, what they call the 10,000 hours. He knows how to perform. How to spread his arms, how to grab hold of the audience with a nod and a wink, you’re in the audience merging with the man and the music and you start to smile and pinch yourself, because these aged men have captured a zeitgeist lost for years and are serving it up for people who remember. It was palpable. I was thrusting my arm in the air, I was singing along, and I didn’t expect to, I thought I was just gonna check it out, pay my dues, and leave.
And Todd killed on “Space Oddity,” and mocked “TVC15″‘s lyrics, but the piece de resistance, near the very end of the show was…
“Billy rapped all night ’bout his suicide How he’d kick it in the head when he was twenty five Don’t wanna stay alive when you’re twenty five”
Only you do. We didn’t expect cancer to get David Bowie, once you get past twenty seven we expect you to live forever. But Todd’s still here. He started as a teenager, and now he’s turned seventy, he’s gained perspective but he still recalls what it all meant, when it was still religion.
“And my brother’s back at home
With his Beatles and his Stones”
The Beatles survive. The Stones never sold many records and now their performances, which are better than they’ve been in decades, still seem a dash for cash. And if you’re not one of those two…
Well, we’ve got the Eagles and Michael Jackson.
Still, so much has faded away and absolutely does not radiate, kinda like “All The Young Dudes” itself.
But what made the performance so magical was the asides, from the Mott The Hoople cover, which fans know by heart, and it turns out Todd does too.
WHERE ARE YOU?
I WANNA HEAR YOU
I WANNA SEE YOU
I WANNA TALK TO YOU!
And we were standing, and we were being seen, and we were singing along, even though the amps and PA were so loud that we could not hear ourselves.
Meanwhile, Adrian Belew is picking those notes he’s famous for, that only he can play. And Michael Urbano is pounding the skins, and even though there’s only been a day and a half of rehearsal, it’s tighter and more forceful than most acts on the road, these old guys excavating the classics from the vault and making them fresh again.
And Urbano was in Bourgeois Tagg with Lyle Workman who came up and played too, he can’t go on the road, he’s too busy being a composer.
But Fee Waybill took the stage and ripped off a version of “Suffragette City” every bit as powerful as the original.
Leave me alone”
We used to want to be left alone, to be who we wanted to be. We were not self-promoting on social media, we knew who the stars were, the people making music, they ruled the earth, they dominated.
And last night they still did.