Arts: Pop: Bowie keeps swinging

CURRENTLY IT seems that David Bowie couldn't receive more adoring coverage if he passed away suddenly in a tragic pile-up on the information superhighway, or perhaps released a revolutionary Christmas single featuring a surrealist collage of, say, The Lord's Prayer and "Auld Lang Syne". But with a new album, Hours, touted as a return to former glories, it seems that the old chameleon has at last settled into a respectable dotage, rather than trying madly to keep up with whatever the young folk are doing.

Not that he needs to worry. His Internet obsession is well documented, yet more revolutionary has been his spectacular financial success in floating himself as a corporate entity. Yes, you too can own a piece of David Bowie. This may prove to be the second most influential act of his long career, after his popularisation of that peculiar short-at-the-sides, long-on- top hairstyle that is so beloved by guests appearing on The Jerry Springer Show.

Friday night's show, in this relatively small venue, sees this fiftysomething apparently comfortable with himself and his back catalogue. He might be dressed in a fetching pink V-neck jumper and tight black flares, but the voice and the charm remain intact. The opening "Life on Mars", with piano accompaniment by his Seventies collaborator Mike Garson, is greeted with excited yelps as Bowie leads the singing.

The band appears, and the set flips between eras (mercifully leaving out most of the Eighties and the Tin Machine). He even performs his first single as David Bowie - 1966's "Can't Help Thinking About Me". It's not great, but it's fun to hear where he sprang from.

His backing musicians, including regular bassist Gail Ann Dorsey, and two extremes of American sartorial style in guitarists Mark Piati and the ascetic looking Page Hamilton, are a clean-cut bunch. Yet they prove well capable of handling such sleazy classics as "China Girl" and the mechanical funk of "Stay", possibly one of the coldest, most coked-up tracks ever recorded.

And although Hours may not be the new Hunky Dory, "Seven" is lovely enough to deserve the comparison. The set concludes with the killer combination of "Changes" and glamrock's greatest moment, "Rebel Rebel", the latter proving that it costs a lot of money to make a snare drum sound that cheap.

The timely choice of "Repetition", a chilling account of domestic violence punctuated by eerie synth shrieks, provided the best of the encores, though "Cracked Actor" was not far behind.

David Bowie might be years past his best work, but this enjoyable rifling through his less frequently performed songs was surprisingly good fun.

Steve Jelbert

A version of this review appeared in later editions of Saturday's paper