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David Bowie remembered

From Serious Moonlight to social media, local writers pay tribute to a musical visionary

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 11/1/2016 (1039 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Since news of his death hit the Internet late Sunday night/early Monday morning, the remarkably widespread (and, even more remarkably, near-universal) outpouring of tributes to, reminiscences of and favourite songs by David Bowie have flooded social media.

Over his five-decade career, Bowie stopped in Winnipeg four times, leaving an impact on reviewers and fans every time.

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Since news of his death hit the Internet late Sunday night/early Monday morning, the remarkably widespread (and, even more remarkably, near-universal) outpouring of tributes to, reminiscences of and favourite songs by David Bowie have flooded social media.

Over his five-decade career, Bowie stopped in Winnipeg four times, leaving an impact on reviewers and fans every time.

Serious Moonlight tour

Sept. 14, 1983 | Winnipeg Stadium | Attendance: 35,000

"As important as the theatrical nature of the concert was to its overall excellence, theatrics were eclipsed by Bowie’s expert singing, his utterly appealing choreography, and the interplay between the singer and his support musicians."

— Excerpt from concert review by Frain Cory, Winnipeg Free Press

David Bowie’s 1983 Serious Moonlight stadium tour was a massive event. It was launched in Europe in May of that year, a month after the release of the Let’s Dance album.

By the time it hit North America that summer, Bowie was an MTV superstar, and the video clips for the title track and China Girl dominated CBC’s Video Hits (which, in those pre-MuchMusic days, was watched by every music fan in Canada).

By creating music videos that were miniature films and crafting a stage show that mimicked a Broadway musical, Bowie became an artist who could sell out stadia across Middle America, which was mind-boggling to the freaks, geeks and cultural adventurers who’d been his main audience to that point.

I saw the Serious Moonlight tour twice that year. Once at Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium, on a chaotic bus trip in belated celebration of my 18th birthday, and then again at Winnipeg Stadium on Sept. 14.

At the time, I was a young music fan whose taste differed vastly from the AC/DC orthodoxy of my high school friends, so the fact Bowie could sell out Winnipeg Stadium was a revelation.

My friend Nicola and I walked from the Stadium to the Royal Albert Arms that night after the show, and we ended the evening dancing to Winnipeg’s Dub Rifles – which, in a Winnipeg kind of way, was simply perfect.

- John Kendle

Glass Spider tour

Aug. 19, 1987 | Winnipeg Stadium | Attendance: 25,000

"More than ever, David Bowie is making a spectacle of himself. With its giant twin video screens, the huge lighted spider embracing the stage, actors and dancers, the Glass Spider show is one of the grandest rock productions ever mounted, perhaps the grandest. The music wasn’t very good, by the way... Bowie chose outstandingly sluggish tracks to open, from the laughably overblown Glass Spider to the treacly Absolute Beginners."

— Excerpt from concert review by Randal McIlroy, Winnipeg Free Press

David Bowie introduced me to the idea that a rock concert could be an over-the-top theatrical spectacle.

The year was 1987, and Bowie brought his Glass Spider Tour to the Winnipeg Stadium. I was 14 and only knew the radio hits, but living in the West End, it was only a short bike ride to Westview Park, a.k.a. Garbage Hill, where hundreds of people were gathered to see and hear what they could from four-blocks away.

I remember the massive lighting rig and the "tentacles" draped over the stage. The quality of the light show and theme of the concert was something I hadn’t seen before (my biggest concert to that date was Iron Maiden’s Somewhere on Tour show a few months earlier at the Winnipeg Arena, and it wouldn’t be until the following year I would get to see Alice Cooper live), but because of the previews in the paper leading up to the event, I knew there was something of a story happening on stage, which I couldn’t see, even with binoculars.

My friends and I left the hill that night in awe and knew we had witnessed something special, even if we didn’t get the full effect like the people in the stadium did.

Over the years I’ve seen countless arena and stadium shows with varying degrees of theatrics, stories and intense light shows, and have often thought of that Bowie show during those nights (oddly enough, the only other time I saw Bowie live was in 2004 when he touring with a stripped-down stage set).

The Glass Spider tour received mixed reviews at the time, but these days is regarded as a pioneering event and an inspiration for artists such as Madonna and U2.

Bowie will be remembered as an artistic chameleon, whose music influenced numerous artists over the years, but we shouldn’t forget the impact of his stadium tours in the 1980s – those reverberations are still being felt today.

-Rob Williams

Sound + Vision tour

March 10, 1990 | Winnipeg Arena | Attendance: 10,000

"Not even the horrible acoustics inside the Arena detracted from the energy or the imagination of the presentation. The altered show, with no live appearance by Montreal dancer Louise Lecavalier, still provided plenty of punch, and maintained Bowie’s reputation as a seminal artistic talent."

—Excerpt from concert review by Bohdan Gembarsky, Winnipeg Free Press

Full concert review:

The early reports are all correct: David Bowie's Sound and Vision tour is a masterful blend of multimedia amazement.

Not even the horrible acoustics inside the Arena detracted from the energy or the imagination of the presentation. The altered show, with no live appearance by Montreal dancer Louise Lecavalier, still provided plenty of punch, and maintained Bowie's reputation as a seminal artistic talent

It was the final chance for the 10,000-strong audience to, according to Bowie, say goodbye to Major Tom, Aladdin Sane and Ziggy Stardust. And they revelled in witnessing Bowie clean out his closet of classics.

Montage missing

The packaging was a massively complex amalgamation — with film and video bites along with live footage —shot and relayed as it occurred on stage — projected on a gigantic, moveable central screen covering the front of the stage, another screen at the back, and two back-projection screens on the flanks. An army of staff kept control of the images at all times, using a battery of terminals.

However, if one wanted to see the screens and the impressive visuals, this was probably not the show to have a seat too close to, or at an angle to, the stage. In any event, the sound and the vision, despite the piddling inadequacies, remained superb.

Another feature missing from the show was the heralded beginning montage, a 12-minute movement piece co-ordinated — along with the rest of the show —by Montreal choreographer Edouard Lock. Bowie kicked right into Space Oddity, made much better with well-timed interaction between flesh and tape. A building-sized Bowie on screen floated through space, as the live performer observed the action while singing AND playing guitar — a sight to behold.

The ornate combined with the sparse in other aspects of the show. A Gothic carved frontispiece bracketed the stage, while Bowie himself and the rest of the band dressed demurely. The rest of the surroundings were left spare, but it's the Duke that the audience came to see, not the accoutrements.

Bowie showed he still has plenty of ability to please a crowd, blaring saxophone on TVC15, and appearing just as comfortable with guitar as without.

Veteran session guitarist and longtime associate (and, from far, a Moses Znaimer lookalike) Adrian Belew took full advantage of every opportunity he was given to display his tremendous prowess on guitar. Fashion — with its screaming, moaning solo — showcased his total control of the instrument.

Station To Station, with its creeping menace broken up by the upbeat "It's too late" middle, was a barometer of the show, marrying every component together effectively and joyously.

The desolation of the song was intensified by no spotlight on Bowie. The lighted floor panels, glowing from beneath in a flowing pattern, giving the Duke a thinner, whiter visage. Then, as if a string was pulled, the band, geared by Belew's urging strokes, exploded into the centre break.

The rousing rendition of Young Americans was also enthusiastically received, and a roar almost drowned the players when the projector displayed a burning American flag. Bowie and the band also inserted a slow, soulful strut after the "break down and cry" stop: another well-considered addition.

Material diverse

Suffragette City and Fame made their appearances at deadline. The full-tilt drive of the former, and the funky, grooving weirdness of the latter proved as irresistible as the rest of the lineup.

The material was as diverse as Bowie's former disguises. The later material like Blue Jean and Let's Dance, and more obscure material such as Queen Bitch and John, I'm Only Dancing were welcome listens.

Wham , bam — thank you, David.

A Reality tour

April 7, 2004 | Winnipeg Arena | Attendance: 8,000

"Strutting about a very simple stage set — a couple of risers, a few video screens and that’s about it — the ageless wonder delivered an extremely satisfying performance based on music and little else."

— Excerpt from concert review by Bartley Kives, Winnipeg Free Press

After hearing the news of David Bowie’s death, I found myself trying to remember precisely how this icon — and his music — came into my life. After all, he’s just always been there, influencing and transcending nearly every part of culture. I can’t imagine life without him.

I’d like to say it was via my dad’s well-worn cassette tape copy of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, the victim of many Bic-pen re-spoolings. I stole that tape, of course, and it sits on my desk as I write this.

But, no. That’s not it. The truth is, I discovered David Bowie through Nirvana.

Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged in New York, a live album recorded in 1993 and released in 1994 several months after Kurt Cobain’s suicide, was, in many ways, a funeral — right down to the lilies that dressed the stage. It was a funeral for Nirvana and, in grim foreshadowing, a funeral for Kurt.

The record contains some of Cobain’s most haunting vocal performances — that gasp and shudder on Lead Belly’s Where Did You Sleep Last Night — and it also includes a heart-wrenching cover of Bowie’s The Man Who Sold The World. It’s a straightforward version, raw and heartbreaking in its plainness. I’ve listened to it more times than is healthy. But it was that cover that sent me down a Bowie back-catalogue expedition.

I never got to see Nirvana. But I did get to see Bowie — in 2004, at the old Winnipeg Arena. I was 19. I don’t remember specifics, only how I felt. Electric. Like I was witnessing greatness. Bowie performed The Man Who Sold The World at that show. I cried. Bowie's show was on April 7. Kurt Cobain died on April 5, 10 years earlier.

Cobain used one of Bowie’s songs to say goodbye and every April, on the anniversary of his suicide, I listen to that cover. Today, Nirvana’s version of The Man Who Sold The World feels like a bittersweet tribute to them both.

-Jen Zoratti

Bowie’s fitting, final legacy

 

 

The moment we learned we lost him was one of the most disorienting ever felt, online.

There was the initial tweet, from his official account. A hoax, people quickly said. Then one media outlet reported the same, and another, and we spun wildly from tongue-in-cheek dismissal and jokes -- "He'll never die!" -- to exquisite grief. Still not knowing what was real or who to believe, that is, until his son Duncan Jones Tweeted "very sorry and sad to say it's true."

 

 

So then we knew: from this point on, we go on without him.

It was, many people observed, something we hadn't planned on. There was always something about him that seemed eternal, less a mortal flicker than a universal fact. The final walls close down on us all, sure, but David Bowie was never one to dwell in boxes. Somehow, despite his insistence otherwise, we assumed he would simply remake himself out of mortality. He would, somehow, adapt.

Well, so much for that.

In a way, the way he left us was his final game, the last time he would run his fingers through the veils between us and show that they are liquid. He released out an album just days ago, on his 69th birthday. He left us living -- for those brief minutes before Duncan Jones confirmed it -- in a place where what was real about him was defined only by what we chose to see.

This is, it seems, a fitting legacy. For if we must go on without him, then it should be mindful of his living lesson, that everything is mutable, the boundaries that limit us are illusion and unstable, and everything is change.

Never wave bye-bye.

- Melissa Martin

 

Gallery: Bowie's Winnipeg concerts

We've gathered some photos from our archives of when David Bowie stopped four times in Winnipeg over his five-decade career.

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