The Bowie Experience hit Blackpool’s Grand Theatre on Sunday and certainly gave us a rollercoaster ride. Billed as “the world’s greatest David Bowie celebration” expectations were high and were achieved in parts, in what was an accurate and entertaining set overall, but not without lackluster moments.
It’s well worth mentioning that this act has been on the circuit for many years, long before Bowie’s untimely passing, and doesn’t therefore fall into any category of tribute profiteering in such circumstances. The Bowie Experience have been celebrating the life of the thin white duke since 1997 and the fact that they continue to do so should garner credit – they are after all huge fans too.
With The Grand almost packed full of “young dudes” (and the not so young) they opened the show in breathtaking fashion with an almost impeccable rendition of Space Oddity, before hammering home Queen Bitch and Starman. At this point I felt for sure I was in for something really special.
The music was on-point and the vocal was indeed a close likeness. I found myself wrapped up like a baby in a blanket of nostalgia and couldn’t have been happier. Looking around at the audience I could see expressions matching my own, people’s faces seemed to be saying what I was thinking, “wow, these guys can play!” Alas, first impressions don’t always last long.
As we moved through the next thirty minutes I felt increasingly uncomfortable, nostalgia it appears only has a half-life and as the show went on my attention focused more and more on front-man Laurence Knight whose stage presence was near nonexistent. He was static in motion, unengaged and seemed more workman-like than showman-like.
The songs came thick and fast with many transitioning awkwardly not allowing for breaks – indeed it wasn’t until around the 40th minute that Knight finally said a word to the crowd. The plethora of big hits played during this period (Changes, Life On Mars, Jean Genie and Suffragette City to name a few) only made the awkwardness more surprising.
The one saving grace was the sheer musicianship and talent on display, as you might expect from seasoned pros, but still the lack of energy seemed to feed across the stage and musicianship alone couldn’t save it. Fortunately as we approached intermission Knight remembered his role as front-man, he began to find his speaking voice by engaging the crowd, making the odd joke and introducing a few songs. Without a doubt this lifted the atmosphere and was helped enormously by energetic performances of The Man Who Sold The World, John I’m Only Dancing and Rebel Rebel.
As we took our seats again for the second half I noticed a small few were left vacant, now I’m not going to assume why that was but what I will say is those people missed out. It’s almost as if the band (and most definitely Knight) were subjected to a half-time team talk by some draconian football manager who quite literally shouted them into action. Everything was ramped up from the on-stage energy to the volume it seemed, and Knight himself was transformed. He moved around the stage with confidence, involving both the crowd and his fellow musicians and slowly but surely enveloped the place in excitement again.
This adrenaline lasted right up until they dropped into Ashes to Ashes, and no I’m not being negative, it was sublime. Coming out of nowhere the distinct sound of that seminal 80’s hit made my jaw drop, it was heartbreaking and emotional and made more so by the build up to it and poised delivery. It turns out its placement within the set was purposeful too as from here they built to the climax.
The audience obeyed as Let’s Dance filled the room and saw people up and dancing in the aisles. China Girl, Blue Jean and Modern Love caused spontaneous singing which reached the rafters and far beyond, at this point the band really were in full swing and loving every moment. This passage was intersected by Under Pressure – a poignant reminder of the sheer weight of skill and showmanship that has been lost in Bowie and Mercury – which was performed gracefully and saw backing vocalist Charlotte Elizabeth Talbot fill in excellently for Freddie, a tasking challenge I think we’d all agree.
Having worked hard to save the show from the floundering first half The Bowie Experience ended on an epic high. First we were treated to a version of Heroes I’m fairly confident Bowie himself would have been proud of, with Knight turning his voice up to eleven and throwing everything at it, his passion in the moment transcending through the room. Then, just as we thought the plateau of emotions had been reached, they finished with the anthemic All The Young Dudes. This was without doubt a lighters out moment encapsulating the bands fall and rise over the duration of two hours, and of course, a final celebration to the writing talents of one of Britain’s finest pop music composers, David Bowie.
Overall I’m happy to say this show is well worth your attention. They had some rocky moments but the combinations of striking visual backdrops, extravagant outfits, accurate-ish vocals and without a doubt superb musicianship makes this a production deserving of its acclaim.
Currently on tour and making stops all over the country I suggest you find some tickets www.bowieexperience.com.
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