He was our hero, just for 16 nights. David Bowie, the space oddity and lad insane who is the subject of a sprawling, lavish exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario, touched down in T-town regularly over the course of his career. He sang 1984 in 1974 at the O’Keefe Centre (now Sony Centre).
He danced under the serious moonlight at Exhibition Stadium on five occasions over three tours. He held a press conference, sang and signed autographs at the Diamond Club (now the Phoenix) in 1987.
And he was as sick as a dog in 2003 when he postponed a concert at Air Canada Centre because of a bout with the flu. What follows are highlights of the man’s 16 sound-and-vision situations over the years in Toronto.
June 16, 1974, at O’Keefe Centre (first of two shows): “The most spectacular rock show I have ever seen,” crowed The Globe’s Robert Martin, who has seen a few. Mr. Bowie sang Big Brother from what looked to be a space capsule. For Space Oddity , he played the doomed Major Tom swung out from a tower on a cantilevered chair on a hydraulic boom. Virtually all of the songs in the 20-song set were, according to the reviewer, “mini-drama, three-to-five-minute stories told in song, dance, mime and special effect.”
May 1, 1978, at Maple Leaf Gardens: As described by The Globe’s Stephen Godfrey, “ In a long green windbreaker and light baggy pants similar to waders, Mr. Bowie looked like a fragile fisherman. But the looks are part of the one character that Bowie cannot abandon – that of a vulnerable-looking cadaver – but sings and acts with a confidence and bite that make the looks a mystery. As a culmination of his characters over the years, it couldn’t be bettered.”
Sept. 3, 1983, at Exhibition Stadium (first of two shows): Opined The Globe’s Liam Lacey, “Bowie may never again be the theatrical musical pioneer he once was, but he is still changing. The hysterical character parts he wrote for himself earlier in his career have been rejected, and the Bowie on this [Serious Moonlight] tour is really another persona, a Prospero figure who summons up all the old characters at will to offer a retrospective of his brooding demons and fantastic genies, none of which seems to directly affect this latest version of Bowie.”
March 17, 1987, at the Diamond Club: For his Glass Spider Tour, Mr. Bowie said he wanted a show which was “ultra-theatrical, a combination of music, theatre, and rock.” He chose Toronto to announce the tour at a mid-day press conference. After performing his new single, Day In, Day Out , and before performing his second song, 87 and Cry , the English rock star introduced his five-piece touring band, which included guitar hero Peter Frampton. “I never feel a sense of competition with myself. I finish a tour, and then I say, ’Why on earth do I do this?’ A year later I say ‘That was sort of fun, wasn’t it?’ Then after another year, I think about it a little more. The next year I’m busy writing songs for the next album and getting ready to go out again.”
April 1, 2004, at Air Canada Centre: “He opened his set with a storming Rebel Rebel and kept it buzzing early on with an anthemic All the Young Dudes and a slightly anemic Fame,” wrote The Globe’s Simon Beck, about Mr. Bowie’s make-good concert after a 2003 postponement. “But this was not the greatest-hits show it was hyped up to be. And not for nothing. During every new song, the audience patiently sat through while waiting for Major Tom to reorbit, it was clear Mr. Bowie was most in his element. His energy level seemed to surge in reverse relation to the crowd’s familiarity with the songs.”