David Bowie Plays the Calgary Saddledome

Tonight, David Bowie reminded us all how a concert should be done.

Well, technically last night, but since it’s just after midnight as I write this, it’s still the same night. Anyway, you get the point.

Tamara and I had planned this from several months ago (sometime in September or October), when we’d heard about an IMAX presentation of David Bowie’s new album, “Reality”. The two of us hussled down to the Paramount Chinook to score some tickets to watch the show. As it turned out, it was the best move we could make. As a result of that show, we’d found out that members of Bowie’s fan club had access to an Internet presale of tickets to his concert in Calgary.

Within moments of getting home, Tamara had joined the club, and we had ordered tickets for us, Tamara’s parents, and a few of Tamara’s friends. But the choice tickets went to us.

On the floor. In the eighth row. We’d be able to see Bowie’s sweat.

Well, you can imagine the wait. It was long. Both of us wanted to see this show. For both Tamara and I, seeing David Bowie play is one of those (potentially) once-in-a-lifetime things. And unlike other acts who come and go, Bowie is a monolith in the industry — the one other acts look to. Elvis might have been the King, but it is the Thin White Duke who rules.

The first time I’d heard David Bowie was in the early 80s. It was one song: “Modern Love”, from his “Let’s Dance” album. I don’t know what it was. Hook, line, and sinker. Since then, I’ve kept track of David’s career — not only his musical one, but also his acting (Bowie’s done several movies, including Jim Henson’s “Labyrinth” and “The Linguine Incident”). Ever since that first song, I’ve been a fan.

We started the evening at Catch. I had given Tamara a gift certificate for Christmas, as she had regularly expressed her desire to eat there. I endulged (perhaps a little too much, but hey, it’s been a rough week). Unfortunately, we ended up running a little late, so we left without noticing that Tamara’s $50 certificate hadn’t, in fact, come off the bill. Something I’ll have to address in the morning.

We grabbed a taxi to the Saddledome, arriving partway into Macy Gray’s opening act. (Bowie, if nothing else, knows that while the opening act should never be better than the headliner, it still needs to be solid.) My only regret of the evening (the gift certificate fiasco notwithstanding) was missing part of Macy Gray’s act.

Arriving on the floor, we had to have someone guide us to our seats, not having a clue where they were. We figured we were off to the sides, which would have been fine for us. We just wanted to see the show. But the guide led us to the middle of the rows, eight away from the stage. Our seats were nearly dead-centre. We could see the individual hair fibres in Macy Gray’s afro.

Tamara and I were damn near giddy with delight.

Macy Gray is a solid performer. A bit of a freak, perhaps, but a total class act. And her band takes a great deal of pride in the work that they do. The result is an amazing show. I would gladly see Macy Gray again, should she swing around this area. (And a note to all of you who have yet to see David Bowie’s Reality show — don’t show up late! You won’t be disappointed.)

The house lights soon came up, and the roadies began to set up for Bowie. Tamara disappeared for a while with her father (he and Tamara’s mother were a row behind us, about six seats to the right), returning about 10 minutes before the show with a tour book, and two drinks (I was the recipient of a free beer). And we waited.

But we didn’t have to wait long. About 20:45, the music on the PA system changed, and suddenly you could hear David’s voice, and the band started playing. But no-one was on stage, and the lights hadn’t yet dimmed. The pixelboard behind the performer’s area came to life, showing an animated version of the band practicing. The lights started going out. The crowd was getting loud.

It was time.

One by one, David Bowie’s band started entering the stage. People whose names are usually forgotten were cheered loudly as they took their positions. There was a long pause from when the last one picked up their instrument until David walked out on stage, to deafening cheers and whistles. Without missing a single beat, they jumped right into what appears to be the opening song on the tour, “Rebel Rebel”.

It was amazing. For the next two hours, David and his band flipped around over 35 years of music, switching from songs from his new album, to songs from his first, and almost every album in between. Ones you never heard of, ones that you heard yesterday, and ones that were great almost a generation ago. All but two or three, I knew or at least had heard once before.

David Bowie isn’t just a singer-songwriter. He’s a performer. When he’s just singing, he’s acting. He’s making love to the audience because he wants to draw them into his world. For two hours, that’s precisely what happened. You were absorbed by his energy (I can only hope to look like him when I’m 57 years old), his passion, and his presence. He commanded without even having to really try.

“Reality”, “New Killer Star”, “Fame”, “Under Pressure” (David’s bassist sings Freddie Mercury’s part amazingly well), “Life on Mars?”, “Ashes to Ashes”, “Heroes”, “I’m Afraid of Americans” (which got a huge boost from the audience), “Ziggy Stardust”, and many others were all readily cheered. It was, without a doubt, one of the loudest concerts I’d been to — and not because of the band. (My ears are ringing, but I’ve been to louder, and much worse, concerts.)

Early in the show, David decided that we’d done such a good job singing “All The Young Dudes”, that we could sing “China Girl” without him. The band started playing, but when the singing should have started, there wasn’t a peep from the audience (at least that you could hear). Bowie looked quite disgusted. He stopped the band, walked up to the mike, and announced:

“That was fucking tragic.”

He laughed with the rest of us, and then restarted the song, this time taking lead of the vocals. He seemed to like the audience participation. During his 5-6 song encore (I’m not sure exactly how many songs he did), he played a personal favourite: “Suffragette City”. There’s just nothing quite like hearing 13-odd thousand people all screaming: “Wham, bam, thank you, ma’am!” at the top of their lungs.

There were two songs that I’d wanted to hear: “Space Oddity” and my personal favourite, “Modern Love”. According to his website, however, those songs haven’t appeared on any of his play lists. Sigh Well, if nothing else, it just gives me an excuse to see him the next time he’s anywhere in the area … which means most of this section of North America, of course.

When the house lights came back on, it was hard to believe it was over. The energy had been amazing — we could have easily listened for another two hours. But it was almost 23:00, and time for most people to go home. (Some of us have to work tomorrow.)

Tonight, David Bowie rocked Calgary. I can’t wait for the return of the Thin White Duke.