David Bowie Skates to Queens College

by Jesse Serwer / The Queens Alternative

11th August 2002

Explaining his six-date “New York City Marathon Tour” at a press conference, David Bowie said, “Amphitheaters are usually a good distance from the city. I would like to repay the fans that traveled so far to see me by bringing my show to them. But most importantly, I could get home from all of the gigs on roller skates.”

Working under this modus operandi, Bowie recently made four rare appearances at intimate venues in each of the outer boroughs (in addition to a pair of shows at Manhattan’s Beacon Theater). For the Thin White Duke’s Queens show, Bowie’s people chose the moderately sized Colden Center, on the Flushing campus of Queens College. While not as exciting or intimate as some of the tour’s other venues (the Bronx’s Jimmy’s Café, for instance), the 2,000-seat Colden Center proved to be an appropriate setting for a scaled down version of Bowie’s arena-sized show.

Starting promptly, just after the announced start time of 8 pm, Bowie and his band rolled through 25 songs in just under two hours. While David’s latest album, Heathen (ISO/Columbia) was heavily represented, the set list took from all eras of his career, from Ziggy Stardust to his late 90s collaboration with Trent Reznor.

The show opened with the first two songs on Heathen, the slow and atmospheric “Sunday,” and his energetic cover of the Pixies’ college rock classic, “Cactus.” Behind the 7-piece band (three guitarists, a bassist, a keyboardist, a drummer and a backing vocalist/percussionist) was the only remnant of the extravagant stage sets that the icon is known for: large lights spelling out the word “BOWIE.” While the icon himself was decked out in jeans and what he called his “leather jacket from the 80s,” several members of his band were wearing loud, colorful and rather comical pairs of pants. Apparently working with someone as notorious for their fashion choices as Bowie has rubbed off on his band, even if he, himself, doesn’t take those risks anymore.

The first “classic” track brought out was “Breaking Glass,” from 1977’s somber Low, which was followed immediately by the decidedly flamboyant, and considerably more familiar, “Fame,” which sounded more like its original version than one might have expected. Up next was “Slip Away,” from Heathen, which sounds like a sort of ode to New York but which Bowie clarified was actually an ode to former New York children’s entertainer Uncle Floyd. In addition to the expected banter about the city that included an attempt at speaking in deepest Queens dialect, Bowie made obscure references to Joseph Lenin and Simone de Beauvoir.

The show really got going near the midway point during favorites like “China Girl,” “Starman” and “Changes.” Also interesting was a more dramatic, pop-friendly version of the classic rock anthem, “Rebel, Rebel,” which preceded what was, surprisingly, the night’s best executed and most intense-sounding track; the heavy, industrial-flavored “I’m Afraid of Americans,” from 1997’s Earthling. Also amusing was the forgotten nugget, “Fashion” from 1980’s Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), which found Bowie approximating a turn on the runway.

A lively encore was hinted at even before it started, as the initial set closed with the rather somber pair of “Heroes,” and “Heathen (The Rays).” After no more than a minute offstage, the eight performers re-emerged with the third cover of the night (the other two being “Cactus,” and Neil Young’s “I’ve Been Waiting For You”), “White Light, White Heat,” by David’s NY pals, the Velvet Underground. A re-vamped version of Bowie’s last major hit, 1983’s “Let’s Dance,” preceded the night’s true closing tracks, “Hallo Spaceboy” and, of course, “Ziggy Stardust.”

Even longtime fans who had seen Bowie in his prime were satisfied and genuinely excited to have seen such a legend at such an intimate venue, and one that many of them drive by every day on their way to work, no less. “I was in the last row but it was so small it didn’t matter,” said Rikki Lana of Bayside, who said she saw Bowie for the first time at Nassau Coliseum in 1976, and has seen him numerous times since then. “He’s such a great performer live. He put on an amazing show and didn’t do the expected, obvious hits.”

All opinions in the Queens Alternative newspaper are the opinions of the authors and do not reflect the opinions of Queens Alternative Communications, Inc.

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