In the past year, I’ve reminisced much on the passing of David Bowie, whose unexpected death in January marked a year of remembrances of the great musician and his legacy.
And many of these remembrances involved a good deal of dancing and absorbing live performances from wonderful artists that took the time to remember Bowie as well. Here then are 10 top Bowie covers that I saw in my time reviewing shows for Parklife DC in 2016.
1. “Starman” by Midge Ure at Bethesda Blues and Jazz, Oct. 4
In 1972, David Bowie appeared on the popular English program Top of the Pops to perform “Starman.” That performance galvanized a generation of young men who would go on to be the next big musicians in the United Kingdom. Among those was Scotsman Midge Ure, who rose from the suburbs of Glasgow to become an ingenious songwriter and vocalist as well as an impassioned guitarist. To see Midge perform “Starman” at Bethesda Blues was nothing short of exhilarating. Read the full review.
2. “Space Oddity” by Duran Duran, Verizon Center, April 8
Among the bands that arose in Bowie’s shadow in the ‘70s, few became as big as Duran Duran. The gents from Birmingham toured a strong album of their own in the past year, visiting the Verizon Center less than three months after Bowie’s death. They arranged a sweeping, heartfelt rendition of “Space Oddity,” which they blended in a medley with their own “Planet Earth” while an early headshot of Bowie hung over the proceedings. It was a simple but masterful salute from a band that has done more than its share of Bowie covers in the past 35 or so years. Read the full review.
3. “Life on Mars” by Woody Woodmansey’s Holy Holy (w/ Glenn Gregory on vocals), Birchmere, Jan. 14
Before the public at large was even aware of how sick Bowie was, Woody Woodmansey, his former drummer in the Spiders from Mars, had planned a US tour for his Holy Holy collective to play the album The Man Who Sold the World in Full, along with other notable Bowie songs. At the Birchmere only days after Bowie was gone, I heard a fabulous version of “Life on Mars” as performed by Woody and Bowie producer Tony Visconti with Glenn Gregory of Heaven 17 on vocals. Astounding! Read the full review.
4. “Let’s Dance” by CHIC, Verizon Center, April 8
When Duran Duran visited in April, they brought along their friend and mentor Nile Rodgers, who toured as their opening act with a new CHIC collective. The band ran through a number of songs that Nile helped to write over the decades, including a stellar delivery of “Let’s Dance” from the Nile-produced Bowie album of the same name. Add to this that Nile, being recognized today with an award announced by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, is one of the world’s greatest living guitar players and you’ve got a smash cover. Read the full review.
5. “Lady Stardust” by Seu Jorge, Howard Theatre, Nov. 8
Brazilian Seu Jorge released a whole album of Bowie covers at the urging of director Wes Anderson in 2005. In the wake of Bowie’s passing, Seu undertook a tour of those covers, first visiting the Howard Theatre on Tuesday, Nov. 8. During the concert, he recounted several stories from his time during filming The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, the movie that first carried several of his Bowie songs. And one of the most memorable stories was how impressed Seu was with Cate Blanchett and her professionalism and dedication to filming while pregnant. He dedicated his heartfelt version of “Lady Stardust” to her and the very crowded room practically held its breath in unison while he played it. Read the full review.
6. “Jean Genie” by Boy George, Wolf Trap, June 1
One of the young men within the generation of musicians affected by Bowie’s breakthrough in the early ‘70s was the iconoclastic Boy George, who surely learned a thing or two about androgyny and gender bending from watching his glam hero kick out the jams. George performed “Jean Genie” in tribute to his hero in his set when he undertook a short US solo tour in a shared bill with Cyndi Lauper. Read a chat with Cyndi about performing with George.
7. “Cat People” by Electric Six, Black Cat, Oct. 2
We might expect all manner of Englishmen (and even a Brazilian artist indoctrinated by Wes Anderson) to cover Bowie, but a funk musician from Detroit? And to tackle one of Bowie’s synthy-est songs? Well, that’s exactly what Dick Valentine and Electric Six quite unexpectedly did at the Black Cat, and they did a marvelous job with the song. Delivered straight without fanfare, and dedicated to the ladies in the room, Electric Six did Bowie proud with their cover of the Giorgio Moroder collaboration. Read the full review.
8. “Jean Genie” by Modern English, Ottobar, June 4
I should have been less surprised that UK post-punks Modern English would cover Bowie when I saw them in Baltimore, but I was very pleasantly surprised indeed. Robbie Grey and company performed an earnest cover that brightened the room considerably. I would argue that Modern English’s sound is largely inspired by the Bowie Berlin trilogy, a high compliment indeed, and so it was wholly appropriate that they pay some sort of tribute. Read the full review. And make plans to see Modern English when they are in DC at the Rock and Roll Hotel on Monday, April 10.
Boy George and Groves perform “Rebel Rebel” at Strathmore Music Hall on Sept. 11, 2016. (Video by Theresa C. Sanchez)
9. “Rebel Rebel” by Boy George and GROVES, Strathmore, Sept. 11
Boy George visited DC metro twice, returning to perform in Bethesda with Culture Club. Time had been good to George’s voice, which was unbelievably good at the Strathmore. To everyone’s delight, George stepped onto stage early to perform a few covers with Culture Club’s opening band, Groves. Together, they played “Rebel Rebel” and won the day. Read the full review.
10. “Queen Bitch” by Seu Jorge, Howard Theatre, Dec. 13
Seu Jorge returned to DC for an encore performance earlier this month, and he played the exact same set list. I saw him both times regardless. (If nothing else there was a bit more elbow room in the second show, which let us all dance a little bit more!) Seu wisely chose to close his show both times with his highlight cover of “Queen Bitch.” Once I realized it was on his album, The Life Aquatic Studio Sessions, I knew I was overdue in purchasing it, and I corrected that oversight. Read the full review.
These 10 performances surely honored the late David Bowie. If you’re game for more David, join me for a few more upcoming events as we round out a year without him. I’ll be an attendee at Songbyrd Music House on Wednesday, Dec. 21 for its listening party of David’s last album Blackstar. (Find details on Facebook.)
Then I’ll host a 70th birthday tribute to Bowie at Dodge City on Thursday, Jan. 12 (a few days after his actual birthday). I hope to see you then!