Review by Shawn Perry
Ever since David Bowie passed away in 2016, there’s been an astounding outpour of tributes and commemorations in honor of the man and his music. Feature films, documentaries, an HBO series, special catalog reissues, live stuff, undiscovered gems — it’s all come out in the wake of Bowie’s legacy. Perhaps the most heartfelt of all are the configurations of Bowie collaborators, band members and peers who have gathered together and taken his music on the road. The Celebrating David Bowie troupe featuring Todd Rundgren, Adrian Belew, Scrote, Royston Langdon, and Angelo Moore is one show no Bowie fan should miss.
This particular performance, staged at the regal Schermerhorn Symphony Center, home of the Nashville Symphony, was especially poignant with Belew playing a hometown gig, and a couple special guests —guitarists Kirk Fletcher and RJ Ronquillo — joining a band that also included drummer Travis McNabb, bassist Angeline Saris, and multi-instrumentalist Ron Dziubla. With Scrote, wearing glittering pants and playing guitar, running the ship as the show’s producer, the two-hour program covered 31 songs pulled from Bowie’s vast catalog. To keep it fresh and make it interesting, the set lists change slightly from one night to the next.
McNabb, Saris, and Dziubla never left the stage, as a revolving door of the featured players came and went. Belew, the only one who toured and recorded with Bowie, was first up for the opening “Sound and Vision.” The former King Crimson singer and guitarist slipped right into the song, strumming through the upbeat, hip-shaking measures before assuming the subtle lead vocal. It would take a while before the audience warmed up and got on their feet, but the pace was definitely set.
Rundgren popped up next in a yellow suit, and kept the party going with a snappy trot through “Young Americans,” with Dziubla blowing out the sax and Langdon on keys and background vocals. When he was and sometimes not playing keyboards or acoustic guitar (which was especially on target for “Space Oddity”), Langdon sang lead on “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide,” “Ziggy Stardust” and “Golden Years” with a dusted-up tone and style remarkably similar to the Thin White Duke’s. You could tell he was heavily influenced by his fellow Englishman.
Of the entire ensemble, Fishbone’s Angelo Moore might well have stolen the show. Appearing in an array of outfits, costumes and guises, Moore tirelessly worked the crowd, at one point stepping over the audience, up to around 10, maybe 15 rows deep, engaging anyone nearby to join him on the chorus of “Rebel Rebel.” Caught up in the moment, he exclaimed: “I like to do the Bowie!” During “Suffragette City,” he invited everyone within a coin’s toss on to the stage, all the while blowing the sax and moving his arm and hands in front of his Theremin.
Belew, who returned to the stage as the featured vocalist on “Starman,” “Fame” and “D.J.,” seized the opportunity to play a song he wrote and recorded with Bowie called “Pretty Pink Rose,” blooming with all the traits of a classic early 80s classic. His harmonies with Rundgren on this number and “Space Oddity” lit up the room.
At 74, Rundgren was likely the oldest musician in the lineup, but you’d never know it by the energy and charisma he brought to the stage. A peer and acquaintance of Bowie, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer had no problem staying in range and in key on “Changes,” “Life On Mars?,” and “All The Young Dudes,” which he more or less made his own.
For “Heroes,” the night’s final number, all the main vocalists took a verse as the audience swayed and sang along. When you throw in Fletcher’s admirable take on Stevie Ray Vaughn’s guitar solo in “Let’s Dance” and a rhythm section that never missed a beat or took a break, it’s hard to imagine a better celebration of David Bowie without the maestro himself on board to make sure everyone hits their mark. No doubt, he would have been more than pleased with the results.