David Bowie Blows Away Wellington

David Bowie – Live /
Wellington, New Zealand /
14 February 2004

By Cameron Officer

To say it was a little wet in Wellington over the weekend would be like saying the Aussies “muddle through” when it comes to cricket.

Boy it was wet. Wintery wet. Wind lashed, road sign swaying, exposed skin stinging, clothes wringingly wet. Wellington wet.

I thought I was being sensible by bringing a lined jacket along “just in case it got a bit nippy”. I would have done better to bring along togs and swimming goggles.

In a city like Wellington, in its position at the harbour’s edge, you’d think the Westpac Stadium planners would have put up some sheltered walkways, wouldn’t you?

Maybe they should be made to stand in the elements for their sins, giving away free black rubbish bags that can be fashioned into makeshift raincoats. But I guess it’s only the naive out-of-towners like me that’d be so stupid as to arrive at the stadium in the middle of February in a refreshingly light summer shirt and jeans.

Despite the prevailing monsoon conditions, there was an air of excitement about the city as we sat huddled in steamy bars and cafes throughout the Lambton Quarter, drinking beer and eating plates of fries, waiting for the rain to stop.

It never did, but it was worth it all the same.

Once we’d got inside the stadium we were relieved beyond words to find ourselves right at the back, under the covered portion of the venue. Thank God I’m such a cheap-arse!

The poor sods down the front didn’t have much to show for their $175-a-head get-in-first commitment to the cause, aside from a wet bum and a special fogged-up laminate hanging around their damp necks. They may have had a good view, but they probably got trench foot too.

Local songbird Brooke Fraser opened proceedings by playing a very, very long soft-rock, vaguely Christian-orientated song, taken from her chart-topping debut album What To Do With Daylight... actually it was probably five or six different songs, but I couldn’t really tell.

Don’t get me wrong, she sings like an angel and looks like a princess, but all her songs seem to be held together by the same glue-like framework – a plodding beat and rather tepid, gently strummed guitars. First single “Better” aside, Fraser’s music tends to lack the honest pop simplicity of Bic Runga’s work and gets mired down in emotional hand wringing. It’s an easy sentiment to fall back on, but her songs really do all sound the same.

Still, she soldiered on, bless her, despite the crowd still finding their seats and arranging their jackets and umbrellas around them as she played, and despite the sound engineer using the poor thing’s first couple of songs to experiment with the levels.

After an army of roadies swarmed the stage, mopping up the water that had accumulated in the previous half hour and placing water bottles around the equipment, like some sick joke, the stadium lights abruptly dimmed and the four-panel video screen above the stage flickered into life, playing wonderfully edited shots of New York and a colourful cartoon of Bowie and his band, set to a loping trad rock instrumental.

The jangly familiar chords of “Rebel Rebel” then sprang from the monitors and all of a sudden, as if I’d accidentally bumped into him in the gents or something, there he was – Bowie! Bloody hell, it’s the Thin White Duke and I look a mess!

Talk about stage presence. Bowie has style... no, Bowie means style. The man could lumber on stage drunk, in a Morris Dancer’s outfit with the remnants of a Chinese takeaway down his front and still look like he’s just popped in on his way to a GQ photo shoot. Just looking at Bowie on stage; the way he sings, smiles, moves, wears his impeccably tailored clothes... it’s a lesson directly from the star power textbook.

He has admitted in the past that he doesn’t see himself as a very good live performer, but his very presence on stage makes a pyrotechnic, special effects-laden Kiss concert seem about as glitzy and exciting as coloured card decorated with macaroni elbows and glitter-glue.

It’s just the man and his band... with a little help from the video screens.

The one thing that this gig reminds me, is that, despite the long shadow of his glam image and dalliances with soul, prog and drum n’ bass, Bowie is a rocker, through and through.

Guitars abound on stage and frame some wonderfully spirited renditions of tracks old and new. “Rebel Rebel”, a jagged, raw “I’m Afraid Of Americans”, a punky rarity in Low’s “Be My Wife” and a spine-tinglingly brilliant version of “Heroes” (dedicated to the drenched crowd, who couldn’t care less about the weather at this very moment).

Yes, the set-list’s absences are noticeable (no “Golden Years”, “Space Oddity”, “Young Americans” or “Little Wonder” are just a few that spring to mind), but what did make it out of the speakers was greeted with loud cheers and big smiles all round.

Even the new stuff sounded good tonight. “Hallo Spaceboy” from 1995’s Outside and “The Loneliest Guy” and up tempo rocker “New Killer Star” from Reality – the album he’s currently flogging to the punters – got the crowd going, despite everyone (and Bowie too, we assume) knowing it’s the stuff from 30 years back everyone really wanted to hear.

Bowie and band seem more than happy to do the honours, with “Under Pressure”, “China Girl”, the still-spooky “Ashes To Ashes” and the double-whammy encore of a stomping “Suffragette City” and “Ziggy Stardust” sating the crowd’s nostalgic needs.

This is probably the last time Bowie will make it to our shores without the assistance of nurse aids, so it was fantastic to see him. The disappointments of his Millennium gig no-show and 1987’s Glass Spider Tour were long forgotten, as even a once-in-a-hundred-year storm couldn’t dampen the enthusiasm at Westpac Stadium.

Well, it’s Bowie, innit?

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