Songs from the David Bowie catalogue of hits from the 1970s and 1980s.
David Bowie – Oliver Slee
Guitar / Musical Director – Tim Wedlake
Guitar – Gianni Chiarello
Drums – Paul Gill
Bass – Lidia Cascarino Close
Vocals / Percussion / Assistant Producer – Charlotte-Elizabeth Leighton
Keyboards – Martyn Cooper
Saxophone / Vocals – Jemma Love
Reviewed by: Chris Caspell
Reviewed: 2 June, 2023
Venue: Liverpool Empire Theatre
It is hard to place this ensemble piece – tribute act or authentic mimicry it is neither, but more an homage to one of the great musicians who, for over fifty years developed a style that made him incomparable to the many millions of fans worldwide.
Some of tonight’s audience may have seen Bowie live on this very stage as he performed at the Liverpool Empire in 1969 (as a part of Humble Pie) and again in 1973 (as a part of the Ziggy Stardust tour). Oliver Slee, as the multi-costumed protagonist, has clearly spent time perfecting Bowie’s mannerisms. His isn’t one of mimicry but a beautifully stylised and triumphal celebration.
Opening with the single that stratospherically projected Bowie into public consciousness – Space Oddity – we were taken on a whistlestop tour of some of the greatest music of its genre from the 1970s and 80s. Hit after hit come quick and fast – Changes, Life on Mars, Ziggy Stardust, Jene Genie, Suffragette City – though tonight some were more successful than others. Jene Genie and Suffragette City: polished and energetic; Life on Mars: a little out of Slee’s range at the top end though helpfully supported by Charlotte Leighton.
After the interval the show’s intensity notched upwards as, in the sweltering heat, the 1,000-strong audience who were, by now, on their feet, danced along to music from Bowie’s Plastic Soul era – Golden years followed by Young Americans. Then into the 80’s and the new romantics – Electric Blue, Fashion, Let’s Dance, – the hits kept on coming with the on-stage band, capably led by Tim Wedlake, proving their metal while Slee was in the wings changing costume.
Commercial success came in 1983 with Bowie’s Let’s Dance album. Co-produced by Nile Rogers (who had auditioned to play in the Bowie band some years before), this album resulted in three top-20 hits in both the UK and US. Let’s Dance – an anthem that brought tonight’s audience once again into the aisles – peaked at number one in April 1983 and remained in the charts for 14 weeks. Modern love and China Girl, though not as successful, kept everyone on their feet this evening.
In between these two colossal commercial hits for Bowie, Leighton, content to take the role of backing singer as well as the show’s assistant producer, rocked the foundations in a commanding duet, singing alongside Slee in the Queen-Bowie collaboration, Under Pressure.
With the delicious anthem All the young Dudes that Bowie wrote and produced for the glam rock band Mott the Hoople in 1972, Ashes to Ashes (1980), Starman (1972) and Heroes (1977), to round things off, this was a reverential salute to a musical legend. Oliver Slee expertly realises Bowie’s music and character, surrounded by an ensemble of talented musicians carefully crafting a musical world that is a worthy successor to Bowie’s genius.