Symphonic Starman sounds

David Bowie: Nothing Has Changed (Queensland Symphony Orchestra)

Brisbane Convention Centre

October 1

David Bowie’s discography is immense, with 27 studio albums, nine live albums, 49 compilation albums, six EPs, 121 singles and three soundtracks. So rich is the musical legacy that he leaves, that to celebrate it with justice becomes no easy feat. Yet, the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, with Australian music icons iOTa, Steve Kilbey, Deborah Conway, Adalita and Tex Perkins, do exactly this in “David Bowie: Nothing Has Changed”.

The ultimately uplifting concert tribute is carefully curated to feature some 30 songs including Bowie’s most popular hits, some more obscure songs and his final ‘Lazarus’, highlighting his versatility and song writing talent. And like Electric Moon’s “Ziggy Stardust”, it shows the versatility of the Starman’s music in its easy transition into delivery by female vocalists.

Deborah Conway showcases an amazing eloquence and depth from her opening delivery of ‘Starman’, followed by ‘Ziggy Stardust’ and more. The legendary Tex Perkins too, starts strongly with a robust ‘All the Young Dudes’ and delivers a memorable ‘Sorrow’. Together Conway and Perkins provide one of the show’s highlights in their Act One duet of ‘Suffragette City’, the first song to see audience members start to take to their feet to dance along. And when frontwoman of Australian rock outfit Magic Dirt , Alinta, and iOTA duet in Act Two’s ‘Let’s Dance’, many crowd members are well and truly on the feet, flocking to the front of stage area to dance along to its funk rock rhythm, regardless of if they’ve put on their red shoes (see what I did there).

The quirkiest of the performances come from the enigmatic, costumed iOTA, opening the show with ‘Ground Control to the Major Tom’ and later bringing ‘’Fashion’ to fabulous funky life. Steve Kilbey (lead singer-songwriter and bass guitarist for The Church), sounds as smooth as Bowie himself in some numbers. And when, appropriately, all the performers come together for a final ‘Heros’ it is musical magic, with its grand and heroic instrumental accompaniment.

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The magnitude of the QSO honouring an artist who has passed away is heightened terribly as they remember their first violin Stephen Phillips who was taken suddenly only two weeks earlier and the orchestration is accordingly, full of emotion. Under Conductor Guy Noble, the orchestra is powerful and majestic in its nuance. The brass section adds extra vibrancy to ‘China Girl’ and the string section brings ‘Rebel Rebel’ to glam rock life, adds a lingering melancholic finish to the delicate sounds of ‘Ashes to Ashes’ and offers a spiralling end to a pre-interval ‘Life on Mars” without detracting from the song’s dramatic themes.

While a video screen could have enhanced the appreciation of those towards the rear of the Convention Centre space, lighting adds much to the eventing’s aesthetics, floating the audience through the tranquil blue of the show’s initial space numbers (in a most peculiar way), warming the glitzy nostalgia of ‘Golden Years’ with shades of yellow and giving Conway a poignant start to ‘Oh You Pretty Things’ affront a starry-filled backdrop. And to have the stage backdropped by a lightning bolt of the now-iconic type that appeared across Bowie’s face on his 1973 ‘Aladdin Sane’ album adds another appreciated touch.

From the resolute ‘Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust’ opener ‘Five Years’, to the 1980s bounce of ‘Modern Love’ and beyond, this tribute to a musical master by these leading Australian artists is nothing short of superb. And as instructed by Conway in ‘The Jean Genie’ it is not difficult to let yourself go in celebration of The Man Who Sold the World.

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