T WAS billed a two-day celebration of David Bowie’s life and legacy.
But following the singer’s death from cancer after an 18-month illness, last weekend’s inaugural Bowie Festival at the Grand Social in Dublin will now be remembered as a preemptive eulogy for one of rock’s most thrillingly enigmatic talents.
Indeed, as they woke to reports of Bowie’s passing, it seemed surreal to recall that some hours earlier, attendees had sung along to many of his hits, as performed by long-time Bowie collaborator Gerry Leonard and tribute group Rebel Rebel.
Irish guitarist Leonard, who played on the great shapeshifter’s penultimate release, The Next Day, and toured extensively with Bowie through the 2000s, covered Hunky Dory’s ‘Andy Warhol’ — a schismatic reflection on celebrity and the distance between the public and private persona.
Meanwhile, the six-piece Rebel Rebel evoked Bowie’s early incarnation as rock’n’roll vagabond with high-kicking versions of ‘Rebel Rebel’ and ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ —anthems which showed rock music could be simultaneously swaggering and contemplative.
Looming throughout, was the understanding that, having just turned 69, Bowie was unlikely to ever tour again. However, any introspection this might have caused was tempered with the knowledge that he’d just released one of his most ambitious records, the hypnotically introspective Blackstar.
With the revelation that Bowie had been fighting cancer the album’s bleakness and melancholy now makes a horrible sense. Particularly unflinching, we at last understand, is the single Lazarus, wherein Bowie solemnly proclaims “Look up here, I’m in heaven”.
Did Bowie suspect he might not live to see the LP’s release ? Perhaps he half-imagined Blackstar would come to us posthumously, so that its funereal subtexts were unmissable.
We don’t know — and, in any case, it doesn’t matter. What’s important is that Blackstar confirmed Bowie’s inscrutable genius. It was also fitting that his very final release should be in the skull-rattlingly outre tradition of arguably his finest albums — blasts of quixotic loopiness such as Low, Scary Monsters and 1995’s Outside (the stock of which has risen with each passing year).
Not that Bowie was infallible. Indeed, it was his tumble from his pedestal in the 1980s that made his subsequent rebirth as a crooning weirdo in a flapping greatcoat so much more rewarding and compelling
But Bowie quickly came to understand that, however materially satisfying, life as a mainstream rock star had hollowed him out. So he reversed gear, pressed reboot, ripped it up and started again, beginning with the swirlingly weird 1993 soundtrack to The Buddha of Suburbia and, two years later, the clattering, Nine Inch Nails-influenced Outside.
This phase of his creative life did not feature prominently during last weekend’s Bowie festival. Indeed, for the overwhelmingly middle-aged (and older) attendance it was clear that the definitive Bowie was the one who stomped across the rock landscape through the 1970s. Then, Bowie could be all things to all people — one reason his death has united so many in shock and grief.
Bowie in Slane, July 1987
ALMOST 60,000 rock fans caught an unforgettable glimpse of the treasures of Aladdin Slane’s cave on Saturday when the Glass Spider Tour came to Ireland.
For two and a half hours David Bowie thrilled his audience with music spanning almost 20 years.
Crowd reaction reached boiling point from the moment the star came to earth via a chair lowered from the belly of a giant spider which formed the roof of the huge stage.
In the castle’s cloisters. VIPs (Very Intent on Posing), sipped beer at almost £2 a pint, while rumours that Mick Jagger was to be a guest percolated through as quickly as spilled drinks percolated through Lord Henry Mountcharles’ carpets.
There appeared to be more portly security men than punters. Patrols along the banks of the Boyne, failed to avert tragedy, however. The drowning of a young fan was a horrific duplication of an incident which marred Dylan’s concert in 1984.
Support acts The Grove, Aslan and Big Country had a small section of the audience dancing in the cider-soaked mud.
The concert opened with the incredibly amplified sounds of Carlos Alomar on guitar. Forty feet of speakers blasted out the sounds as myriad cameras swept the stage to relay instant pictures to a gigantic video screen left of stage. An almost impregnable line of economy-size security men, in green t-shirts, looked like a thorny hedge all along the base of the stage.
The choreography, manifested particularly by Constance Marie, was a well received extension of Bowie’s art. Halfway through his set he asked, “Let’s see if I can remember some of the old songs.”
What followed was more than any of the 60,000 fans could have wished for; a selection of classics from the Ziggy Stardust era to the ’80s.