On February 6, 2016, I attended David Bowie: A Musical Tribute held at the Plaza Playhouse Theater in Carpinteria, California. This was a benefit for The Young & Brave Foundation, which helps children and young adults who have been diagnosed with cancer and their families. The show was produced by Ones to Watch Productions, who believe, and I can agree, that “music is the universal language that connects and touches us all.” The format was such that each musician would perform one or two of David Bowie’s songs backed by the house band under the musical direction of Tariqh Akoni.
I’m going to give credit to the band upfront because they made this show thoroughly enjoyable. This band sounded fantastic and this group of professionals clearly knew their material well, even though this was only a one-time gig. First, Tariqh Akoni on lead guitar — wow this guy was amazing, particularly when he was playing solos. He had a plethora of guitars and matched each one so skillfully to the song at hand. Bowie really traversed some different styles in his music and Tariqh had a guitar and pedals to cover every variation in tone and style. His performance was exhilarating and he was clearly having a great time on stage.
The rest of the band was made up of Herman Matthews (drums), David Delhomme (keys/guitar), Jesse Siebenberg (guitar/lap steel), Pete Korpela (percussion), Zachary Provost (piano), Jacob Scesney (saxophone), and Randy Tico (bass). Didn’t catch the name of the trumpet player. Each of these guys has a respectable list of musical credits playing with a variety of well-known artists and some on TV shows as well. A few songs into the show a realized I had seen young saxophonist Jacob Scesney on stage previously, playing with former American Idol contestant and talented multi-instrumentalist — but perhaps best known for his bass playing — Casey Abrams. Jacob’s talent was evident, but he didn’t really get to show off his skills the way he does when he plays with Casey or with his other regular group, Postmodern Jukebox (who just released their latest album PMJ and Chill). Fun to see him there and I also had the chance to say hello after the show.
The show began with the song “Young Americans” performed by The Brambles. They started out with ukulele, kazoo(!), and drums and then the band joined in at the first chorus. Next up was Jamie Drake singing a straightforward cover of “Starman” with additional support from Shane Alexander. Talented teens Curran and Freya performed a pretty duet of “The Man Who Sold the World,” (link to video I shot at the show) with their voices blending together so nicely in harmony. These two are definitely “ones to watch.”
Shelby Figueroa sang a softened, breathy version of “Changes.” Some of these songs are so iconic, it must be daunting to perform them, but she made it her own. Before Rain Perry began singing “Life on Mars,” (linked video is not the whole song) she dedicated it to “the misfit kids that David Bowie made feel better.” I was happy to hear this full band version of one of my favorite Bowie songs. Give Rain’s web site a look, she blogs too and has some interesting things to say.
Dillon Brady took the stage and started out subtly on “Quicksand,” but transformed into a rock star as the song progressed. I borrowed the title for this blog post from a lyric in this song. He then took the show to the next level with his intense performance of “Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide.” He was followed by Eli Wulfmeier who rocked out on both “It Ain’t Easy” (link to Bowie’s version) and “Rebel Rebel.”
Then there was an intermission. What? Wasn’t expecting that, but lots of people took the opportunity to grab a drink in the lobby. This meant the audience was much more loosened up for the second act, as it were, which began with Max Kasch singing “Let’s Dance” with probably the best David Bowie vocal impression of the night. This song and his enthusiastic performance of it had quite a few audience members out of their seats and dancing, some even congregating at the front edge of the stage.
Next up, the lovely Jamie Wyatt on guitar and harmonica, sang a sweet version of “Heroes.” She had a pleasing voice, clear as a bell. Shane Alexander returned to the stage, changing things up by performing Lou Reed’s song “Perfect Day,” which Bowie had produced. He also performed a Bowie song he said he was not familiar with before planning to sing it for the tribute concert, “Dead Man Walking.”
Sharlotte Gibson was a late replacement for the unwell Perla Batalla, but she sang an absolutely enchanting version of “Lady Stardust” (see video I shot at the show). This lady is obviously a professional singer and though she said she was not feeling well, her singing sounded beautiful to me. She was visibly moved by performing in this Bowie tribute; what a gracious and wonderful added gem to the show she was. When she performed “Space Oddity” she and the backing band briefly took us all out of this world with their phenomenal rendition.
Closing the concert was singer Glen Phillips, front man of the band Toad the Wet Sprocket. He mentioned that the last time he had been on stage with Tariqh it had been in a high school performance of Bye Bye Birdie! After a little mix up with the band as to which of his two songs he was performing first (and not “We love you Conrad, oh yes we do”), Glen launched into a fierce rendition of “Moonage Daydream” (video I shot at the show). It was so refreshing to get to see Glen rock out on a song like that one as I most often see him now as a solo artist, playing an acoustic guitar. He closed the show singing “Ziggy Stardust,” (video I shot at the show) which I expected he would do as he has previously performed that song with Toad. It was a fitting ending and had much of the audience on its feet. It was such a fun evening of music and an endearing tribute to an amazing artist and all for a worthy cause.
Wait, you’re still here? And now, a presentation of the many guitars of Tariqh Akoni. Not pictured, the 12-string Guild he played on “Space Oddity.”