Review: Aladdin Sane Live at the Royal Festival Hall
Given the schizophrenic nature of Bowie’s follow-up to Ziggy Stardust, it is perhaps fitting that this live tribute, orchestrated by the Nu Civilisation Orchestra to commemorate the 50th anniversary of its release, should be performed by a veritable rainbow of queer talent, writes CARY GEE.
First up, introduced by the indomitable Amy Lamé, wearing a metallic rainbow dress she assures us was once worn by Kylie, is man of the moment, Jake Shears. Oddly he is the only American booked to sing from the album Bowie himself described as “Ziggy goes to America”. He gives his all to Watch that Man, but somehow, despite sashaying across the stage in a shimmering rainbow two-piece it all feels a little hesitant, as though Shears can feel the originator’s presence somewhere in the Gods, looking down with a wry snaggle-toothed grin.
On this occasion the Nu Civilisation Orchestra, is conducted by Peter Edwards with a straight baton. Not so on the playful Prettiest Star, which is given a full doo-wop makeover complete with extended trombone solo (Ellie Smith) that perfectly complements the uproarious vocals of South London gas Tawiah.
Panic in Detroit, sung almost too perfectly by Roxanne Tataei, lacks panic as long as she sticks to the words, then almost by stealth, as she begins to vocalise towards the end of the song, you can feel the riot brewing. (Note to the Kaiser Chiefs – real rock stars don’t predict a riot – they cause them!).
A masked Lynks turns Cracked Actor into a queer disco banger before Lady Grinning Soul, perhaps the toughest challenge to any vocalist tonight, is met by Anna Calvi who has been honing this particular song for years. Of more concern to my date for the evening, who has himself played keys for Bowie, is Mick Garson’s piano solo, which thankfully remains largely intact under the skillfully dexterous homage of Deschanel Gordon.
Act Two opens with Bowie’s dystopian 1984, lifted from the Orwellian Diamond Dogs, and inserted here for no apparent reason other than to allow the trio of brilliant backing singers a chance to shine.
The title track goes to Roxanne Tataei (with a little help from the audience) and she more than answers any lingering questions by nailing a re-orchestrated vocal perfectly, and proving her embryonic superstar status.
Drive-In Saturday is given a full Saturday Night at the Movies makeover courtesy of the irrepressible and easy-to-fall-in-love-with Tawiah.
Lord knows what’s been provided on the dressing room rider but when Jake Shears re-appears in a one-legged cat suit that could have been made for Bowie himself to sing Let’s Spend the Night Together he is transformed into a Bowie/ Jagger chimera, and could almost be singing the song to himself! It’s a standout performance, rock ‘n’ roll for grownups. Shears is Chameleon, Comedian, Corinthian and Caricature and fast becoming one of the most engaging performers out there. It’s difficult to imagine that anyone else could forget (some of) the words so seamlessly!
Calvi vamps to Time, complete with original Stride Jazz piano accompaniment before the brilliantly gimpish Lynks (who else were you expecting?) teases the hell out of both the audience and Jean Genie while proving you can never be too over-dressed to sing glam-rock.
Bowie aficionados will have noticed that the MD has played fast and loose with the album’s original running order, but it’s easy to see why. Only a madman (or a sadist) would send his audience out into the cold to Lady Grinning Soul. Instead, we are treated to all of tonight’s singers knocking seven shades out of Rebel Rebel.
A fitting end to a mesmerising evening. I can’t help thinking that Bowie, now a lightning bolt in the sky, would be grinning himself, from ear to ear. So much more than I dared hope for.