There’s a vital difference between cover bands and tribute artists. To be a good cover band you need to make the songs your own, adding or arranging each track so that it’s reinvigorated.
Tributes are a whole other beast entirely. Yes, they play someone else’s songs but the plan is to get them as close as possible to the original. Basically they need to embody the look, sound and spirit of the original. Done well, they can rival the original artist, done poorly…well let’s not go there.
So, going to see Bowie Experience at the Lighthouse in Poole I had high expectations of a fitting tribute to the Starman. I was not disappointed.
A chiselled-cheeked Laurence Knight took the lead role of David Bowie, working hard to imbue his character with all of the charisma and quirks you would expect. Backed up by a seven piece band and billed as the “World’s Number 1 Celebration of David Bowie”, the show was a spectacle of light and sound from start to finish. Every detail was thought out from the ‘Inflight Magazine’ (or programme as other acts may call it), to the costume detail keeping pace with Bowie’s constantly changing personas.
The band kicked off with a cracking version of Space Oddity, starting with that recognisable eeriness, building it up to fill the auditorium with glitter and glam. They then proceeded to rattle through Bowie’s early hits backed up by a video backdrop and light show that changed with each track.
The first half contained no less than four costume changes, Knight leaving the talented band to hold the stage as his transformed from the Starman, to Aladdin Sane, to Ziggy Stardust and back to metallic striped, PVC-platformed glam. And the costumes were pretty impressive, including a one-legged, skin tight jumpsuit with mullet hairdo. Although I was slightly worried that his package might fall out. It’s a brave man who graces a stage in that outfit striking poses that would make your yogi proud.
Highlights from the first half included Starman, Jean Genie, The Man Who Sold The World and a version of Changes with an epic sax solo from multi-instrumentalist Emily Westwood. My favourite moment had to be a recorder solo, usually the preserve of tunic-wearing primary school children, used to good effect in Life on Mars.
At some point during Jean Genie an audience member made his way to the front to bust some moves by the stage and by Watch that Man, the audience were fully in support.
A rip-roaring version of Rebel Rebel took us to the interval in an explosion of sound and light, which made me wonder… how was the second half going to top it?
With a bit of Diamond Dogs of course, and some wonderfully creepy snogging of a skull during Cracked Actors. This was Knight fully in character, every gesture and hip wiggle rehearsed and perfected as he took us through Bowie from the late 70s through the 80s.
Yet more costume changes introduced us to Young Americans, Ashes to Ashes, Sound and Vision and Fashion. Although the wardrobe was more subdued the music took a step up. This is the Bowie I grew up with, anthems of synth-heavy tracks, bluesy vocals and classic lyrics.
Let’s Dance brought the rest of the house to its feet. Fans filled the aisles, crowding the stage and the dancing man of the first half confessed his undying love for bass player, Lidia Cascarino Close, much to her surprise.
Heroes was the penultimate anthem of the night, a personal favourite of mine, before Knight had us all singing along to All the Young Dudes. The only minor complaint would be that the more recent albums were excluded. But when every song on the set list was not only a hit but a cultural reference for generations you can hardly grumble. The attention to detail throughout was impressive too. All in all, it was a fantastic night of theatre, I say theatre because this was no mere gig, this was a fully-fledged spectacle and I’d highly recommend it.
Words by Sarah Gorman