The Spirit Of David Bowie Lives On Through Mike Garson’s Celebration Of His Music REVIEW: CELEBRATING DAVID BOWIE @ THE WILTERN 2/28/18
LOS ANGELES, CA- On February 28th, 2018, just after 8:00pm, the lights went down at the Majestic Wiltern Theatre and Mike Garson took the stage. Garson was Bowie’s longest band member and most frequent collaborator “performing together for both Bowie’s first and last concerts in the United States as well as 1,000 concerts around the globe in between”. Two days after the release of Bowie’s final album, “Blackstar”, Bowie passed away, but Garson knew he wasn’t done yet playing his dear friend’s music. Once a year, he now gathers a smattering of Bowie band-members and willing vocalists who have been influenced by the Thin White Duke and they hit the road to bring us the party we weren’t ready to stop having.
On this night, Garson was accompanied by long-time Bowie accomplices Gerry Leonard (Heathen, Reality, The Next Day), Earl Slick (Diamond Dogs, Young Americans, Station to Station, Serious Moonlight tour), and Carmine Rojas (Let’s Dance, China Girl, Modern Love, Blue Jean). Having never seen the Goblin King perform live, this was as close as I was going to get.
Bernard Fowler (who has been a backup singer for The Rolling Stones for 30 years and is just an incredible rock and roll vocalist) opened the show with “Bring Me the Disco King”, and goddamnit if he doesn’t sound SO MUCH like Bowie. I stood there and closed my eyes and wished really hard and was almost there. Fowler sang the bulk of the songs throughout the evening, and Joe Sumner- who is the spitting image of his dad- also handled a lot of the singing duties, looking like he was having the time of his life.
Toward the beginning of the evening, Evan Rachel Wood came out and sang the hell out of “Moonage Daydream” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide”. And then Perry Farrell happened. I never thought I would say these words, you guys, but I’m gonna write a whole paragraph about Perry Farrell. Maybe two.
Perry Farrell and Jane’s Addiction really did a lot of the heavy lifting when it came to ushering in what would become known as Alternative Rock. When Nothing’s Shocking came out in 1988, the mainstream had never heard anything like it, and 2 years later with Ritual de lo Habitual came more of the same groundbreaking stuff. I was actually just having this conversation with my husband, who can’t stand Perry. I said “be that as it may, you can’t deny the massive footprint they’ve made on music. They were fucking pioneers, and that’s just a fact.” But, like, Perry is WEIRD. And when I saw him come out in those tailored pinstripe pants with his pocket watch chain swinging, I wondered what I was in for.
I heard the opening riff of “The Man Who Sold the World” and I almost started crying. That song holds such a huge place in my heart not only because it’s one of my most favorite Bowie songs, but because the cover that Nirvana did on Unplugged came out at such a formative time in my life. That song has so much baggage attached to it, man. I continued to wonder what I was in for.
He started out tentatively. He was quiet and almost timid. He sang with… a British accent?? Ok. I squinted. He kept looking like John Waters. Between every phrase, he was smiling so contentedly. His smile was really doing it for me. And then came the oozin’ aahs accompanied by the main riff at the end of the song and I was transported right into outer space. For an entire minute I stood there with tears streaming down my face as Perry sang the most soul-satisfying melody with more passion than I can immediately recall seeing anything performed. He closed his eyes and he shook those notes out, and I was struck by how reverent he was being to my song. I had been worried, but he knew what he was doing. He finished almost abruptly, with that smile that smacked of satisfaction from having done something so fulfilling.
I truly didn’t know how anyone was going to follow that, but then came Gaby Moreno with “Five Years” and it was in that moment, with that transition, that I realized Mike Garson wasn’t fucking around in the slightest. My first thought was of how David Bowie himself would have reacted to hearing Gaby singing one of his songs, and I think he would have had to sit down. Her range and her sustain are just stunning, and oh my god every move this woman makes oozes style. The tonal quality of her voice is deep and rich with a soft rasp that just pulls you right in. Her vibrato is quick to jump in, her stylistic eccentricity was mesmerizing. She sang with such passion and desperation that I found myself incredibly sad when she was finished. Fortunately, we hadn’t heard the last of her for the evening.
A song or so later, I was completely awestruck to be face to face with the man who sang one of my favorite songs growing up… yep, I just dated myself … Corey Glover of Living Colour. I remember watching the video for “The Cult of Personality” on MTV over and over again, hearing it on Pirate Radio and KNAC. It’s one of my most vivid sense memories. He took the stage in living… uh… color, with the brightest blue hair and a huge grin. When the intro to “Young Americans” came in, every single person in the whole venue, Corey included, started moving their hips and shoulders and didn’t stop for the next six minutes. There I go …. just thinking about it. I had never seen Glover perform, though not for lack of desire to, and this was an inspiring first time. I always imagined that he was a super fun, silly guy, and I was pleased to learn that I hadn’t read him wrong.
The moment that will stick with me forever, though, for very personal reasons, was Garson’s “Aladdin Sane” piano solo. It struck me as a thing I will never see again in my lifetime, which really isn’t surprising considering he’s never played that solo the same way twice. He played for what seemed like half an hour (although I know it wasn’t more than 7 or 8 minutes), showing us exactly why Ziggy Stardust kept him around for four decades. He alternated between the “Aladdin Sane” chords and various and sundry other recognizable melodies, each more spastic than the last. It was violently erratic, but to me it was the most recognizable thing in the world. I grew up on “Aladdin Sane”, and that jazzy sensibility is one of my most loved security blankets. I’m so humbled that I could hear it straight from the man who made it for me.
Each performance brought me right to the place I wanted to be. Each performer was right where they wanted to be, doing exactly what they wanted to do – there were no “hired guns” here tonight. It was the most wholly intentional experience I think I’ve ever had. We spent the evening celebrating a man that none of us were ever prepared to lose. 2 years later, I’m still stumbling to figure out how to exist in a world without David Bowie, the man with a moniker and persona and song for every occasion, even his death (I listened to “Lazarus” once. It took me about a month to build up the courage to do it. I haven’t been able to do it again yet.) Turns out, a whole bunch of people are doing the same thing. Personally, I’m a fan of Mike Garson’s plan.