Live on Mars, the tribute show to the music of David Bowie, stopped off at The Queen’s Hall Edinburgh tonight to bring back to life on stage, via Alex Thomas (David Bowie) and the band, many of the classic hits from the early 1970s to mid 1980s period of David Bowie’s musical career. Alex Thomas is himself a life-long fan of David Bowie and his music, so he will more than realise what an almost impossible task any tribute act faces here, as there are simply so many classic songs that people still not only want to hear, but expect to be in the show, and that due to time limitations, you are always going to have to miss out someone’s favourite and run the risk of disappointing them a little. For me, from this classic time period, there are so many more songs I would have liked in these two sets (“Diamond Dogs”, “Rock 'n' Roll Suicide” and “V2 Schneider” to name only a few), but this was balanced out by some songs that I do not hear too often in tribute and sets like "Moonage Daydream" and “Queen Bitch” made up for that.
Any tribute band is always going to face one simple problem for a reviewer; they are a tribute act, and no matter how accomplished they are on stage, it is always obvious that whatever made that person or that band the “superstar” they became is simply not there, that magic flash of lightning is not happening. The best any tribute band can do is become a strong echo, or a close shadow, and along the way maybe capture a little bit of “the original” in their music if it is performed well and with respect to the original artist. This “respect” for David Bowie and his music is where Alex Thomas won me over tonight. Alex Thomas knows that he is not David Bowie, and we all know in the audience (well I hope we do) that he is not David either, so what we can share between us is an evening of music that both performers on stage and us, the audience, can enjoy together.
One of my big problems with many David Bowie tribute acts is that they feel the need to go into the” dressing up box” to perform the songs in whatever “Bowie persona” fits those songs but, thankfully, and refreshingly, Alex Thomas is not taking his show down that route, and here we have a later period “David Bowie” in a suit going back to songs from the back-catalogue. This is of course what David Bowie himself did at times - go back to older songs, often re-working them, but never getting back into the old outfits and make-up of personas that he had moved on from.
This “retrospective concert” of course is a very risky road to take for Alex as many fans do want those period visuals recreated for them, and a few people in the audience were, I think, a little bewildered and maybe disappointed as to why those visuals were not there in this show. There is of course also the fact that these shows were very much theatrical events as much as musical events in their original performances, and perhaps we do lose a little with this format. For me though, Alex has taken the right decision here with his stage show as it makes it clearly stand out from the many “period costumed” acts out there at the moment. Alex clearly knows there was not only one David Bowie, but one Mick Ronson too, and I don’t think any tribute band can ever come even close to the on-stage chemistry between David and Mick, so why even try? There are of course on screen clips from old shows, interviews and song videos playing behind the band, so these do in themselves establish the period visuals that many people so fondly remember.
Alex Thomas is a very good performer of these songs, and a passing resemblance to David Bowie helps a lot here too. The band are also very tight and doing a very good job on all of the songs in this show. I don’t think that anyone in the audience here could be disappointed with these covers of classics like “Ziggy Stardust”, “The Jean Genie” "Suffragette City" (why did Mott the Hoople ever reject that song?), “Life on Mars?”, “Heroes” and many more songs tonight. There were also more than a few musical surprises here too.
“Live on Mars” is a good show, and it is also a well-produced show. Alex Thomas is not travelling lightly here and there is, as well as a five piece band, good stage sound and lighting and an “in house” technical team to handle these areas; a lot of care, attention and financial investment has gone into this show and yes, we all know that this is not David Bowie on stage, but for a few hours we can all at least share in the illusion together.
Taking the always risky decision to leave the classic costumes and make up out and concentrate on the important thing, THE MUSIC of David Bowie, for me raised this show above the average “Bowie tribute” show and that itself is worth an extra review star to me.
Review by Tom King