Celebrating David Bowie tour keeps the artist’s music and legacy alive

Keyboardist Mike Garson was a member of David Bowie’s band for the duration of his career. Garson is the bandleader on the Celebrating David Bowie tour, which wraps in Atlanta March 18, 2018. Photo: Jamie Trumper

When Mike Garson looks into the audience, he sees fans singing “every word to every song” of David Bowie’s music.

“He was the soundtrack to their lives,” Garson said.

He should know.

The keyboardist was Bowie’s longest and most frequent band member, playing more than 1,000 concerts with him since the 1970s, including his first and last in the U.S., as well as on 20 albums.

On Sunday, Garson and a list of other venerable Bowie-tied musicians will visit Buckhead Theatre and wrap the five-week Celebrating David Bowie tour, which has hailed the late musician’s catalog from Portland, Ore., to Montreal to Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Longtime David Bowie guitarist Earl Slick is part of the Celebrating David Bowie tour, which wraps in Atlanta March 18, 2018. Photo: Joe Del Tufo

Joining Garson are Earl Slick (guitar), Gerry Leonard (guitar), Carmine Rojas (bass), Bernard Fowler (vocals) and Gaby Moreno (vocals). Special guests for the Atlanta show are actress-singer Evan Rachel Wood, spawn-of-Sting Joe Sumner and British producer-singer Mr. Hudson.

The loquacious Garson, in his thick Brooklyn-ese, called recently on his way to a performance in Mexico City to provide some insight into the Bowie salute and share how the musician’s 2016 death affected him.

Q: Now that you’re heading into the home stretch of shows, how do things feel onstage?

A: We’ve finally become that band because we’re all alumni except the drummer (Lee John Madeloni) — and he’s the son of Earl Slick — and the singers. To my ears, after playing several of these concerts, it’s like what I remember when we backed David up. It takes a village for everyone to capture one man’s work.

Q: Evan Rachel Wood, Joe Sumner and Mr. Hudson have been with you at various points throughout the tour and will be in Atlanta, but how did they get involved?

A: There’s been probably four iterations of this show since I started. Sting did it last year, Perry Farrell did it (recently). We have Bernard Fowler, who was with the (Rolling) Stones for 30 years. And Evan Rachel Wood, she loves David. She grew up on his music and she’s got a tattoo on her leg of the “Aladdin Sane” logo. She had a lot of feelings. Her heart is so into it; you feel something when you hear her sing.

British singer/producer Mr. Hudson is a special guest on the Celebrating David Bowie tour, which wraps in Atlanta March 18, 2018 at Buckhead Theatre. Photo: Jamie Trumper

Q: How did you settle on this lineup of songs?

A: The set list is ever changing. I chose about 38 to rehearse and we do about 21 to 24 per show. I have to choose certain hits that we all know, like “Life on Mars” and “Space Oddity,” and I wanted to make them sound great. But I chose some unique ones like “Bring Me the Disco King” and “Quicksand.” We sprinkle them throughout the show, and the real fans really appreciate them. I wanted to have that balance. If we did all obscure stuff, we’d lose a lot of fans.

Q: Is it hard for you to be up there, having had such a history with David?

A: It’s very hard. There’s not a night up there that at some part of the show, the tears aren’t coming. There are moments you just remember. We were doing “Five Years” last night and I was remembering doing it in 1972. His music needs to be carried forward. He has such a catalog of music, but we never thought of it that way because he was here. We have to find people who want to be part of the re-creation of his songs. This isn’t a tribute because it’s alumni playing his music, which makes it different from a lot of tribute bands. The band is as good or better than when we backed him up.

Q: Have you found new things or nuances about his music while doing the live shows?

A: That’s what’s interesting to me … when you’re with a guy like him, no matter how big he is, you take for granted the person and music. Now that he’s gone, I’m finding songs I never heard and subtleties in the lyrics. “Conversation Piece,” he did it last in the ‘60s. We re-recorded it in the 2000s and it’s so beautiful — so it’s like rediscovering his music. “Lady Grinning Soul” we never did live, and Joe Sumner sings it and has an amazing voice. I’m definitely not bored!

Mike Garson onstage. Photo: John Bernstein

Q: We’re at the end of the tour. What’s the plan after this?

A: I have so much music in my head. I did an “Aladdin Sane” tour in England and just did that album in order. I see doing symphonic stuff with some of the band’s music. We want to take it to Australia or Asia or Europe. I see doing an album of his stuff with some of my favorite singers — Robert Smith, Simon LeBon, Evan (Rachel Wood). They all said they would do it, just piano and voice to bring another aspect to his music. It’s kind of endless.


CONCERT PREVIEW

Celebrating David Bowie

8 p.m. Sunday. $36.50. Buckhead Theatre, 3110 Roswell Road, Atlanta, 1-800-745-3000, ticketmaster.com.

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