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Concert Reviews:
David Bowie alumni celebrate his music, joyously, in Royal Oak

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic on Twi

Posted: Sunday, February 24, 2019

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ROYAL OAK -- The tone for the evening on Saturday, Feb. 23, at the Royal Oak Music Theatre was set with the final lyric of the opening song, "Bring Me the Disco King," when singer Bernard Fowler intoned David Bowie's decree that, "We gonna have a party!"

And that's exactly what the second Royal Oak visit was for A Bowie Celebration: The David Bowie Alumni Tour. While the initial show, nearly a year to the day back in 2018, had the quality of a wake, Saturday's performance took the position that more than three years after Bowie's death at the age of 69, it's more important to celebrate than mourn.

So the 10-member troupe, led by longtime Bowie keyboardist Mike Garson and featuring a pair of other alumni -- Earl Slick on guitar and Carmine Rojas on bass -- romped through 21 songs over the course of two mostly buoyant hours, focusing more than anything on the inventive breadth of Bowie's material and the enduring sturdiness of his songs throughout his eclectic nearly 50-year recording career.

This time out Garson and company expanded the footprint a bit; While last year's show featured nothing from later than 1977, Saturday's dipped into the 80s for "Let's Dance," sung with impressive, Bowie-like accuracy by Fowler, also a regular member of the Rolling Stones' touring group, and "Under Pressure," the Queen collaboration with Living Colour's Corey Glover taking the Freddie Mercury parts. And, again, the concert particularly shined when it dug deeper than the hits, particularly in the troupe's recreation of the "Sweet Thing"/"Candidate" couplet originally arranged for Bowie's 1974 Diamond Dogs Tour and preserved on the "David Live" album, with solos by Garson and Slick bridging the two songs.

Garson also stretched out on "Aladdin Sane (1913-1938-197?)," while Slick -- whose son Lee John played drums -- was the night's instrumental star as the only lead guitarist in this A Bowie Celebration configuration, was the night's instrumental star, with searing solos during "Fame," a stomping "Stay" and a bloozy "Time." The vocalists, with arguably the most daunting task, all scored as well; Fowler stood out particularly during quieter pieces such as "Bring Me the Disco King" and "Win," while Glover's powerful pipes lit up "Young Americans," "Suffragette City" and "All the Young Dudes."

And Guatemalan native Gabby Moreno, another tour returnee, took on a broad range of material, from an emotive "Five Years" to "Time" as well as a charged "Panic in Detroit," which Garson said the troupe only plays when it's in the metro area.

Moreno also led a moving encore version of "Life on Mars" before the always triumphant "Heroes" brought things to a close. There is, of course, no Bowie to sing these songs anymore, but if you're going to hear anyone do them A Bowie Celebration does so with the most credibility and investiture -- not to mention the musical know-how to get them right.

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