An opportunity to hear Bowie’s music live with the option to spend $25 on a red Steve Zissou knit cap.
(Photo: Kenny Ahearn)
The year 2016 cannot end soon enough. Not only did we find out that the United States will be saddled with Donald Trump as our commander-in-chief for the next four years, we lost some seriously important artists along the way, including Prince, Sharon Jones and Leonard Cohen. Always one to ride the crest of impending trends rather than follow, David Bowie continued this prescience by passing away from cancer back on January 10th, setting the tone for the somber year to follow.
The outpouring of grief was tremendous. No one even knew Bowie was sick. He had just released his best effort in decades a few days earlier in Blackstar. Bowie was a rock god, immortal. No matter that he had spent the majority of the prior decade out of the public eye. This unexpected loss set the tone for the tragic year to follow.
Bowie’s influence on other artists cannot be overstated. Among Bowie’s fans was director Wes Anderson, who featured his music in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004). Always inventive, Anderson asked Brazilian singer/actor Seu Jorge (who starred in City of God) to rearrange those songs for the acoustic guitar and to sing them in Portuguese.
Although we never saw an O Brother, Where Art Thou? style tour to capitalize on The Life Aquatic’s soundtrack success, Jorge is finally making the rounds 12 years later to pay tribute to Bowie. Promoters in Portland miscalculated the demand for the show (and the love for Bowie), moving it to the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall (capacity 2,776) after the initial run of tickets, at the smaller Revolution Hall (capacity 850), quickly sold out. For those who never had the chance to see Bowie, this show presented the opportunity to hear his music live with the option to spend $25 on a red Steve Zissou knit cap.
Dressed in the same blue outfit and beanie he wore in the film, Seu Jorge (pronounced Sue George) began the show with the familiar opening strains of “Ziggy Stardust.” Behind him, a cartoon of Bowie in Aladdin Sane regalia beamed onto a screen, just one of a few tasteful instances where we actually saw the singer’s visage that evening. Jorge peppered the short set with stories about how he was invited to join The Life Aquatic (he was playing video games when the offer came in) and how he initially confused David Bowie with Billy Idol. But like many of us who had that “wow” moment when first connecting with Bowie’s music, Jorge claimed that he quickly became a fan.
All of the 16-song set was comprised of material from 1974 and prior. Jorge performed the bulk of Ziggy Stardust, and he balanced hits (“Space Oddity,” “Changes”) with lesser-known chestnuts (“Quicksand,” “When I Live My Dream”). Before playing “Rebel Rebel,” he told us that he arranged it and first performed it less than an hour before they shot the scene. Most of the songs came with stories. Before an emotional “Five Years,” he talked about how both Bowie and his father passed within days of the other. “Lady Stardust” elicited a story about Cate Blanchett. But the strength of the evening resided in the songs themselves. Jorge managed to wring similar feelings in his arrangements to those that Bowie evokes on record, even pulling off an acoustic version of “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide.”
The evening was not without its confounding points. For an artist with such a fecund discography, there was so much more to explore than the earliest Bowie (and completely ignoring the masterful Aladdin Sane from the era seems like a mistake). The three-song encore, featuring a pretty lousy video collage from The Life Aquatic, saw Jorge play two songs that he already performed in the main set. Yeah, “Oh! You Pretty Things” is an amazing song, but why not arrange something else? As a tribute, Seu Jorge’s show was just fine, thank you. But fine isn’t the best thing when paying homage to one of the most important artists in rock ‘n’ roll. We should expect transcendence, and this wasn’t quite there.