“Perhaps you’re smiling now
Smiling through this darkness
But all I had to give was guilt for dreaming”
–“Time” by David Bowie, 1973
The word ‘tribute’ can be misleading. Since the shocking death of David Bowie in January, there have been a slew of local tribute shows, some even raising money for cancer research
This was different though.
When it was announced in March, “Holy Holy: A David Bowie Tribute” promised “an all-star lineup” of musicians who had worked with Bowie. The only name mentioned in the press release was Tony Visconti, which was enough to get me to buy a ticket, regardless of who would be appearing with him. I once heard Visconti speak at a conference about producing and recording music, so I was simply thrilled that I’d see him play bass.
There was a bonus though that made this not only one of the best, most apt tributes to Bowie that a fan good dream up, it was one of the best shows I’ve seen at The National…ever. The reason? On drums for the affair was none other than the legendary Mick “Woody” Woodmansey! For the uninitiated, Woody played drums on Bowie’s records from 1970-73.
The vocalist who would sing Bowie’s lyrics was Glenn Gregory from the band Heaven 17, and while he’d probably be the first to admit no one can sing like Bowie, he did an excellent job and was fun to watch move around on stage.
The show began with the album “The Man Who Sold The World” performed in its entirety. This meant the show would open with “The Width of a Circle,”a song that, when Bowie played it live appeared toward the end of the set and would be extended for as long as fifteen minutes! The band didn’t play for quite that long, but they did showcase two great guitar solos. Incidentally, all of the guitar parts that were performed by Mick Ronson in the 70s were performed on this night by not one but two guitarists.
Here is the set list for the first portion of the show:
The Width of a Circle
All the Madmen
Black Country Rock
Running Gun Blues
She Shook Me Cold
The Man Who Sold The World
As you can see, that list doesn’t contain a single ‘hit,’ so the fans who bought a ticket expecting to hear ‘Let’s Dance’ or ‘Rebel Rebel’ may have been disappointed.
Like I said, this was a different kind of tribute.
For the second portion of the show, Visconti and company promised “Bowie’s Greatest Hits,” but really, it was my dream set list:
Medley: Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud/All The Young Dudes/Oh! You Pretty Things
Life on Mars?
Watch That Man
Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide
I’ve now heard Woody Woodmansey play the intro to “Five Years” in person. That fact is worth the price of my ticket alone! Also “Watch That Man” had me on my feet in jubilant celebration. Most of the night in fact was a celebration; very emotional but overall an unforgettable fitting tribute to an amazing artist by friends who knew him well.
There was only one Bowie, but thankfully there are millions of fans who will ensure his legacy. Seeing Holy Holy was a great communal experience, one that helped fans like me “smile through this darkness” as we mourn and celebrate his life and music.