Stardust: The Music of David Bowie @ HBF Stadium
Thursday, September 17, 2020
In the events space, the last few months have been lowkey to the say the least, but on Thursday night Perth Symphony Orchestra did its best to show that Perth local music and events are coming to life once more. Stardust: The Music of David Bowie was the kind of event that Ziggy would have smiled upon, offering a bit of something for all Bowie fans in attendance, young and old.
The show saw the Perth Symphony Orchestra, along with vocal leads Steve Hensby and Addison Axe, take on a career-spanning selection of David Bowie songs. The choice of two singers was a clever one, befitting of an artist as androgynous and shape-shifting (both in musical styles and aesthetic) as Bowie was.
Steve Hensby fronts local act The Steve Hensby Band and is a vocalist with some serious power and range. His skills and flair for the theatrical made him a perfect fit for some of Bowie’s bigger numbers, and he made his presence felt in the opening salvo of songs.
Proceedings opened with Under Pressure, Hensby made a suitable stand-in for Freddie Mercury as he showcased some brilliant swooping falsettos. Fashion followed, given a swaggering and horn-heavy rendition by the orchestra. Early Bowie was namechecked with The Man Who Sold the World, re-worked as a piano-heavy number that relied less on the original’s distinctive riff. It was one of several interesting reworkings of Bowie tracks, with most working well.
Only Ashes to Ashes suffered from a change in arrangement, a tad too formless and lacking the punch of the original. Golden Years tipped its hat to Thin White Duke era Bowie with a guitar-driven rendition. Hensby did show signs of some nerves during a between-song monologue, and a few lyrics went a word astray. But you’d never know it for most of the performances. Particularly good was the song that closed his initial salvo, arguably the highlight of the show in Five Years. It was the kind of slow-build track that allowed Hensby to really chew up the scenery, as he controlled the dynamics and turned the song’s closing refrain into an absolute crescendo.
The torch was then passed to Addison Axe. Axe fronts local rockers The Tommyhawks and Axe Girl, and her voice is breathier and jazzier, able to belt out the stronger numbers but also handle some of her selections’ quieter moments with the tenderness they required. Her opening track was a beautiful rendition of Life on Mars, a nuanced performance that made full use of the orchestra’s string section. Magic Dance followed, a nod to the beloved film Labyrinth. It featured some audience call-and-response befitting of a song so infectiously silly, and was a fun standout. Ashes to Ashes and then Heroes closed out the opening part of the set, with Hensby returning for the latter to delivery another gusty performance.
The audience returned from the intermission for the inevitable Ziggy tribute, with Hensby donning a glorious wig and whipping out the guitar for Ziggy Stardust. Axe had changed into a very cool Union Jack outfit, appropriate for her take on 90s Bowie standout I’m Afraid of Americans. This was a sleeper highlight, Axe’s voice and attitude suiting the song’s slinky rhythm perfectly. Starman and Space Oddity both went off well, and Lazarus showcased late period Bowie in a track that again played to Axe’s strengths, even if the orchestral backing may have been a tad too loud. Closing the main show was Changes and finally Rebel Rebel. It was cool to see Rebel Rebel’s legendary guitar riff played by the string section. The track got the crowd going and the boogie continued with an excellent transition to another glam rock classic in The Jean Genie.
The show wasn’t over yet, with the encore returning to where the show started with a one-two punch of Bowie 80s hits with Let’s Dance and Modern Love. It was a clever bit of sequencing, as the first track got the crowd on their feet and the momentum and dancing carried through to the end, which was fittingly punctuated by a saxophone solo.
Overall, this was a great night that showcased one of rock’s greatest and widest-ranging careers. With such a huge back catalogue (26 albums across a 54-year career, according to Axe) it was difficult to please everyone, but this show succeeded in including all the hits while also touching on all the important milestones in Bowie’s career. A great night and a fitting tribute to a legend.
Photos by Karen Lowe