Mike Garson, the pianist and bandleader for “Celebrating David Bowie” wants to make one thing perfectly clear: This is not a tribute show — it’s Bowie’s band.
The ensemble features four musicians who played extensively with Bowie, including Garson, guitarists Earl Slick and Gerry Leonard and bassist Carmine Rosa, complemented by a diverse roster of singers who bring novel interpretations to Bowie’s vast and eclectic catalog.
“The last thing I want is a tribute band where somebody’s imitating David,” Garson said during a phone interview as he drove through Los Angeles.
Instead, the performance features several singers who make Bowie’s songs their own.
Among them are Bernard Fowler, who has sung with the Rolling Stones, and Gaby Moreno, a vocalist from Guatemala.
“She interprets (Bowie’s song) ‘Five Years’ in the most gorgeous way,” Garson said.
The lineup of singers changes somewhat for each show. The British singer Mr Hudson will be part of the performance Sunday at Santa Rosa’s Luther Burbank Center. (The show also plays Saturday at San Francisco’s Regency Ballroom.)
“He brings a whole different thing to ‘Starman’ and ‘Changes’,” said Garson, who played about 1,000 live shows with Bowie, including his first and last appearances in the U.S.
The Santa Rosa show could feature surprise guests, Garson said. Sting showed up in Los Angeles last year, and Seal and Simon Le Bon of Duran Duran have also made cameos. The tour, which aims to celebrate Bowie’s legacy and creativity by bringing new life to his remarkably inventive songs, has been selling out in Europe, Garson said.
Bowie, born David Jones in London and known for such songs as “Rebel Rebel,” “Heroes,” “Fame” and “Let’s Dance,” died in January 2016 at age 69.
In the days after his death, the outpouring of grief and appreciation for Bowie was global and monumental.
Asked why Bowie touched so many people so deeply, Garson said his music has a spiritual component and that he had a lot to say.
Known for his androgynous appearance, the glam rocker reached people who were not in the mainstream. “Everybody he reached was a little different. The fans I meet — they’re not your normal person on the street,” Garson said. “They’re all a little twisted. He was twisted. Not everybody liked him, you know.”
But over time, Bowie has become widely more accepted and admired, Garson said.
“People like him because he’s an icon, and they’re realizing he was a genius, probably among the best singer-songwriters ever. But those first American tours weren’t sold out. We got terrible reviews, it was painful.”
For those who embraced Bowie, his music meant — and still means — the world to them.
“I think he made it safe to be who you are. He was the ultimate rebel,” Garson said. “He had the looks of a great rock star, the writing, the producing skills, the voice, but he was bigger than all that because of who he was as a person,” he said.
“He was trying to really reach people at a deep level, but he wasn’t trying to cater to them. He was just being himself.”
Bowie’s fans remain dedicated, more than two years after their hero died.
“When I’m sitting at the piano, they sing the words to every song,” Garson said. “It’s thrilling, truly.”