There are not too many David Bowie tribute bands around. Bowie recorded music that is difficult to play in concert. There is orchestration without pretension. Drama without send up. Uniqueness amidst familiar idioms.
A south shore tribute band Diamond Dogs found the proper balance Bowie always maintained between rock and roll idioms, his own unique timbers, and the modern sounds he could conjure with equipment in the studio. Diamond Dogs opened with the signature song “Space oddity,” a mix of acoustic guitar strumming, eerie, forbidding spacey keyboard effects, fulsome drum rolls, and a tender lead guitar phrase. Right off the bat Diamond Dogs proved they were up to the challenge.
The only drawback to last night’s show was that Diamond Dogs had to rely on a house soundman at Dante’s, and that person was only able to do his level best and his best wasn’t good enough. At too many points part of the sound went too low and became almost inaudible in the mix. As a room, Dante’s is a mixed blessing. It is long and hollow, and that lets the sound travel. Yet, the ceiling is high and that could make it a difficult room to run sound in. Two speakers that hang from the ceiling only barely control the problem. There were moments when lead vocalist Mike Richard was a little less audible than he needed to be. That was especially the case when Diamond Dogs opened with “Space Oddity” and they lost some of their chance to fully impress the audience right off the bat with their dead on approach.
“Ziggy Stardust” appropriately rocked out with its trademark electric guitars and bass but could have had more volume from the backing singer in this song. “All The Young Dudes” found bands members singing in a perfect four part vocal harmony and the icy guitar melody winded its way through the song with an easy going grace.
Diamond Dogs must have spent a lot of time breaking down Bowie’s material and then putting it back together again. “Starman,” required all to use their instrumentation to build the narrative arc of this story. Backing vocalist, Gina Lovewell has sweet, pure timbre that adds a lot to the texture of the songs and to the recreation and channeling of the Bowie sound.
When Diamonds Dogs rock out on Bowie’s edgier material, they really rip into things with a feeling of rock and roll abandon, even though they have to pay careful attention to detail and nuance. That familiar Bowie swell of guitars was very prominent during “TVC 1 5” with the rhythm guitar functioning like a persistent undercurrent backbone of drone. The lead guitar, played by Rick Risti, over it cut its way forward with the aggression of a chainsaw. Put it all together and you have the combo of drive and sophistication. Likewise, the rollicking rock song “Rebel Rebel,” possessing a Jerry Lee Lewis influenced piano, becomes more than just a rock song because of the Bowie vocal timbre and delivery. “Jean-Genie” had a bopping beat and driving groove and a fantastic rendering of the lead guitar work out. “Changes” featured some of Lulu Phillips’ bests piano tinkling and the song was well punctuated by Joe Whalen’s quick, snappy drum rolls.
“Moonage Daydream” showed off the Diamond Dogs’ ability to recreate Bowie’s grungy melodrama. A harmony of cooing underneath the instruments provided a platform for the players to bounce around on. Rick Risti’s lead guitar came racing in with a zig zagging groove, and, the singer eased his way through the vocal melody with a smooth surefootedness. “Ashes To Ashes” gave bass player, John Allouise, a man with a stately presence on stage, a chance to showcase a lot of talent, bouncing his twangy bass notes around an intricate song structure. Allouise is certainly the anchor to this band. His bass was often the pulse the rest of the band played around, including the drums.
“Golden Years” found the rhythm section manufacturing the pulse, glorious, expansive chords riding over this 1970s anthem. “Young Americans” had a similar constitution, another Bowie hit about the 70s, chockfull of great drum rolls.
Bowie’s meanest and creepiest songs “Theme From Cat People” became the most intense during last night’s show. Eerie keyboards, drums, and percussion cultivated the buildup to the tension. Guitars began fiercely rocking out in orchestration with ethereal synths. Joe Whalen’s drums were loud and frantic here in this song that is both wild and sophisticated. Things got more exciting during “Heroes” that Phillips had awash in synth sounds and the band rocked at a time your time pace, so good it made you want to jump on stage and be a rock star.
Bowie’s hit from the 1980s made for a nice dance party that unfolded on the floor in front of the stage. “Fashion” had everyone either dancing on the floor or moving in their seats. “China Girl,” a pleasant pop song from the Reagan era, got a nifty touch of Phillips’ oriental melody. “Let’s Dance” was another that could pied piper people onto the dance floor.
Art rock masterpieces and pop rock gems studded the performance of Diamond Dogs. It takes a high level of musicality to bring David Bowie’s music to life for a live audience. Diamond Dogs made it happen, even if one of their members didn’t play last night’s show and the soundman at too many moments didn’t have the knobs adjusted quite right.