The Roxy in West Hollywood was packed to the brim Monday night (Feb. 8) for “Celebrating David Bowie,” a multi-guest for-charity tribute to the late singer.
The show was hastily organized by local musician Angelo Bundini, who’s no stranger to these rotating-musician events, having staged similar tributes to the Talking Heads and Peter Gabriel at the smaller L.A. venue Molly Malone’s. But the best intentions didn’t always mean a consistent show: a non-stop, barely-rehearsed four-hour marathon set meant plenty of misses in between guest-singer hits, for a night that ended up both fulfilling and ultimately exhausting.
Those hits were, generally (and unsurprisingly), Bowie’s best-known songs: actor Ewan McGregor, one of the topline performers, sang “Heroes” throwing a bit of Bono into his phrasing. Though he sang the song back in 2001 in Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge, it was still a treat to have the actor who once played Obi-Wan Kenobi sing “We could be heroes/just for one day.”
Fishbone’s Angelo Moore, dressed in blackface and calling himself “Niggy Stardust” (“Only I can call myself that,” the provocateur proclaimed) blasted his way through a few songs including “Moonage Daydream.” And Gary Oldman — playing a part you wouldn’t necessarily peg him for — sang lead vocals on “The Man Who Sold The World” and background on a few more for the latter part of the show, a member of a huge crew of musicians that made sense for the veteran character actor to fade into.
Lesser-known performers made up the bulk of the evening: guitarist Josh Smith shredded his way through “Let’s Dance” and “China Girl,” and workaholic local musician Paul Chesne started nervous during “Jean Genie” before nailing the vocal and getting into a guitar-noise battle with Bundini at the end of the song, garnering one of the night’s biggest cheers.
The emotional core of the evening, though, came from longtime Bowie keyboardist Mike Garson, who nearly broke into tears explaining his year’s-long kinship with the late legend (he died Jan. 10 at the age of 69), whom he said slept directly across from him on the tour bus. After delivering what amounted to a eulogy, Garson played on “Aladdin Sane” — including his famous avant-solo, for the first time in 20 years (so he said) — and stayed onstage for both an improvised ode to Bowie and a surprise appearance from crooner Seal, who sang the obscure, jazzy track “Bring Me The Disco King.” Garson — who popped in and out for the rest of the set — seemed like he was having a going-away party for his friend, complete with costumes and cheer. Whether or not the audience was onboard for the whole thing was irrelevant to the catharsis that was obvious onstage.