Tribute gigs… are they any good? Bowie and Prince, London, January & February 2019

I had mixed feelings in the past about tribute bands, considering them very often as quite pathetic either for the musicians involved or for the audience. To make it short, the past is the past and better to discover new exciting bands rather than listening to the same songs again and again from your favourite band from the past or dead artist. Maybe this is age or being more tolerant but I welcome such gigs now. The concert that made the difference was probably that I went to in the early 00’s in Strasbourg, bringing on stage Genesis “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway” by the excellent tribute band The Musical Box. Bach or Coltrane have been dead for a certain period of time now and musicians play their music all over the world so why could not we listen to the music of The Rolling Stones?… Wait…I am just told The Rolling Stones are not dead actually…Anyway, I recently experienced two Bowie and one Prince tributes so here is the review for each of them.

A Bowie Celebration – Shepherd’s Bush Empire – 12th January

The first gig I went to was in the same mindset as that attended early 2017, in the sense that the leader of this band is American pianist Mike Garson, probably one of the most influential band members David Bowie worked with (like Mick Ronson, Carlos Alomar, Reeves Gabrels or Gail Ann Dorsey to name but a few). On stage with a few usual suspect compadres like Earl Slick on guitar or Carmine Rojas on bass, one must recognize he manages to bring David Bowie’s music live with joy, energy and just a slight touch of pathos. The three singers were also quite good, with a special mention to Corey Glover, one of the founding members of Living Colour. My only frustration came from the choice of songs; they were all great but quite a pity there were so few from the last thirty years.

Seu Jorge & The Heritage Orchestra – The Life Aquatic -Tribute to David Bowie – Hammersmith Apollo – 8th February

The next one was a bit different as it was a specific breed of tribute… Based on the songs he performed in his sailor role in Wes Anderson‘s “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” (one of my favourite movies ever), Seu Jorge was in the beautiful Apollo theatre to sing in Portuguese a few Bowie classics from the so-called glam period. The majority of the songs were indeed actually from “Hunky Dory“, “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” or again “Aladdin Sane” and like in the movie, sung in Portuguese… according to Seu Jorge’s inspiration. For those not familiar with the man, he has been one of the most singular voices in Brazil in the last 25 years, either with supporting roles in movies or through a few excellent records. I was also a bit frustrated not to hear any Brazilian-sounding songs from Seu Jorge but I guess these were the rules of the game. On the other side, it would be a disgrace not to mention the extraordinary level of the classic ensemble on stage that night as they really brought an extra dimension to the songs whilst staying subtle.

The Revolution – Shepherd’s Bush Empire – 14th February

No better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day that catching up live Prince‘s former glorious band from the early 80’s, surrounded by prestigious guests from Bordeaux, France. As a reminder, a bit like James Brown used to do, Prince did not hesitate to frequently change his musicians and despite their excellence, The Revolution was no exception. Despite great or…interesting records later, they probably played on Prince’s greatest albums: “1999“, “Purple Rain“, “Around the World in a Day” or the immense “Parade“, one of the most moving, dancing and singular albums of all times. The Revolution are/were: Lisa Coleman on piano, Doctor Fink on keyboards, Bobby Z. on drums, Brown Mark on bass and the great Wendy Melvoin on guitar. They were also accompanied on stage by singer Stockley Williams, especially when a falsetto voice was needed.

After Prince’s death in 2016, these musicians went through a tough mourning phase and spontaneously reformed the band more than 30 years since they last played together to celebrate their former leader. I guess I am not the only one to claim it but these musicians really created a specific sound thanks to Prince’s vision. The setlist was really extraordinary and I must admit being very much moved by Wendy’s interpretation of “Sometimes It Snows in April“. All the set was very moving actually and I spent the whole evening in a happy/sad state of mind. The rockers were also amazing in terms of energy and musicianship. Wanna see the funkiest band in town? Go and see a bunch of immensely skilled musicians in their late 50’s named The Revolution!

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