Panic in Anaheim!

Photo by Jeanne Rice David Bowie and The Polyphonic Spree
Arrowhead Pond, Anaheim
Friday, April 23

David Bowie was actually playing "The Theatre at the Arrowhead Pond," a neat trick in which the Pond peeps haul out huge black curtains and cut the arena in half to form a makeshift amphitheater. On one hand, this makes any show presented under this truncated arrangement far more intimate than the big 18,000-seat room. But on the flipside—and our evil twin, Captain Cynical, just has to ask . . . David Fucking Bowie can't fill an entire arena anymore?!? Then again, maybe that's what happens when you spend the '90s ignored by radio and making mostly unlistenable music. We haven't trusted Bowie in eons, ever since that horrifically dull Glass Spider tour on which we wasted perfectly good minimum-wage money back in '87, when he packed out then-Anaheim Stadium just across the street. It was our first Bowie show ever, and all we could think of as we trudged off to the parking lot was, "Legend, our ass!" We felt jacked by Bowie more recently when we read that his current tour would include his biggest hits—tunes he swore would receive their farewell performance in his 1990 tour, for which we also paid good, minimum-wage money because, well, he swore he was never going to play them again! Fourteen years on, we no longer make minimum wage, and we can get in free to just about any gig we want, so what could we possibly have to complain about? Nothing! Which is why this was the greatest David Bowie show ever!

Just kidding. We're not that easy: there was some stink, almost all of it rising from his lame '90s songs, with their maybe-I-can-get-the-kids-to-like-me-if-I-go-alterna-rock/drum-and-bass/electronic pretensions. He's clearly desperate to maintain his '70s relevancy, but he never does the one thing that's certain to work—good ol' rock & roll guitar, damn it. Why isn't he re-teaming with Iggy Pop or something right now?

So his albums may continue to blow, but live, he can still mostly cut it. Opening with "Rebel Rebel" and wearing an ensemble that resembled tattered antique window drapes, he took that tune and some of his better-known ones and slightly tweaked them to keep it interesting, either with changes in tempo or mixing in different notes and pitches where you least expected them. He and his band threw in rarely played nuggets like "All the Young Dudes" (still more of a Mott the Hoople number to us) and "Man Who Sold the World," which he prefaced with "You probably know it better by Nirvana," which was kind of sad but true: some parents had obviously dragged their kids to this show. We loved "Cactus," the Pixies cover, and "Fashion" and "Under Pressure" and "Ashes to Ashes," but we slept through stuff like "Heathen" and his Nine Inch Nails rip-off, "I'm Afraid of Americans" and even "Heroes," so plodding that it was rendered nearly immobile. Some of the '90s stuff was actually pretty decent thanks to Earl Slick's ornery fretwork, but it's not like we're gonna go out and spend money on '90s Bowie records or anything.

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The real meat came during the Ziggy Stardust encores—primo Bowie, this was, with "Five Years" and "Suffragette City" and that still-great riff that lords over the title cut. This is our classic Bowie sound, baby, and most of the time, it's the only sound that matters. Maybe someday he'll get back to it—and not some fake-ass Tin Machine knock-off of it, either. We couldn't help guffawing at the night's final image: huge white BOWIE letters flashing behind the band. "Making love with his ego," indeed.

We can't stop slobbering over the amazing Polyphonic Spree, even though it seemed like only the rock critics in the Pond were doing the same thing. The audience was flat-out annoyed at this ingenious 26-person pop choral ensemble, what with "You suck!" exhortations peppering the hall during their set and everybody else hell-bent on keeping their asses planted in their seats. Corpses, the lot of them. The Spree (they let us call them "the Spree"), for the uninitiated, are a white-robed clan of aural pleasurers—spirit-lifters who look like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir without all the Jump-for-Jesus bullshit, whose God is Brian Wilson and who employ French horns, theramins, violins, tympanis, harps, flutes (we want more flutes in rock bands!) and a 10-person chorus of backup singers to spread their gospel of positivity. One of the most fun bands to come along in ages (even more fun than the Darkness!), and with some good publicity, we can even see them becoming a touring cultural phenomenon in another year—a Riverdance for cool people. And when they mashed up their semi-smash "Light & Day" with the old Blues Image hit "Ride Captain Ride," who couldn't have fallen in love with them, other than the earless? Why, the cranky drunk woman sitting behind us, who blurted, "So you guys endured that opening act?" We almost bit her.

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