Andy Polaris reviews David McAlmont and Sam Obernik singing
Wall to Wall Bowie at Hideaway, Streatham.
Station to station in this case means Streatham, a stone’s throw from David Bowie’s former Brixton home, the latter of course having become the epicentre of collective mourning for fans outside that fantastic Aladdin Sane mural on the high street. Tonight at the upscale Hideaway nightspot we were told this Wall to Wall Bowie was a celebration not a wake as vocalist David McAlmont unleashed a varied selection from Bowie’s back catalogue with an accomplished backing band. Dressed almost low-key in dark shirt and trousers, he opened with Watch That Man and immediately we realised these would be interpretations, not pure xerox copies, and all the better for it.
Suffragette City followed, then Sweet Thing, one of the first stand-outs of the night from Diamond Dogs, elegantly capturing this favourite moody gem, stripped back to reveal the solemn beauty of the lyrics. Starman dazzled despite McAlmont’s irritation at suffering from a cold. Partner in crime Sam Obernik poured herself into a leopard print rubber dress and joined him for vocal duties on some theatrical renditions of Changes and Life on Mars. The jaunty duet of Let’s Dance and an almost louche Turkish-infused lilt to The Man Who Sold The World made me imagine them as the house band for David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. The Jean Genie invoked an almost conversational delivery of the character’s peculiarities, part Grace Jones, part Gil Scott-Heron. A buoyant duet of Under Pressure was the closest to its original composition and closed the first part of the set.
The second act opened with the glorious almost medieval beauty and incantations of Blackstar as the singers entered holding solitary candles. The expertise of the four-piece band resounded throughout their free-form jazz stylings, thanks to the bass skills of Simon Little, pianist and MD Janette Mason who did echo some of the florid extravagance of Mike Garson, plus Emlyn Francis on melodic guitar and finally Jack Karnacz-Pollitt on drums.
Some songs had me leap with joy mainly because it has been decades since I’ve heard Bowie personally singing them live, if at all. A funky reworked Fame was marvellous with David bopping around on stage. He also injected reggae dancehall seasoning into Young Americans while Sam sang lead, but the highlight for me was the ballad Win from YA (I can’t recall ever hearing a live version). A swooning guitar introduced this, one of the best songs from Bowie’s “plastic soul” late Seventies period, and in the absence of the superb original backing vocal arrangements from Luther Vandross, McAlmont’s masterful delivery retained its wistful yearning quality. Ziggy Stardust, Kooks and Wild is the Wind followed, the latter performed by Sam, and a foreboding duet of Space Oddity had them spiralling around on stage and then obviously enjoying themselves with an encore from Hunky Dory‘s Quicksand, again with Sam singing lead. Unfortunately we didn’t get Lady Grinning Soul or Modern Love but due to his cold this whole set was a bravura effort.
BLACKSTAR LIVE AT HIDEAWAY
Along with the theatre staging of Bowie’s Lazarus, as a fan you realise that there will never again be any DAVID LIVE performances but only tributes and cover versions to appreciate and enjoy. Thankfully I can report that with McAlmont the canon is in very good hands, carefully curated and performed with a great measure of skill.
Credit to all the band members and to musical director Janette Mason who organises this event as an annual celebration at this attractive and relaxed wine-and-dine venue. Although it has been around for some time, this was my first visit and I would visit again as the stage is clearly visible and the audience is quiet and respectful when they need to be and even the diners are not that distracting. I can count many smaller city venues which I would avoid due to clientele talking loudly all the way through a performance and ruining the experience.
McAlmont has worked and collaborated with Craig Armstrong, David Arnold, Bernard Butler, Courtney Pine and Michael Nyman on critically acclaimed projects, amongst others. He has successfully toured recently with a tribute to Billie Holiday and is currently touring as David McAlmont and Alex Webb with a new project The Last Bohemians.
A Wall to Wall Bowie five-track EP featuring David and Sam is also available via Janette Mason’s shop. More info available on individual online accounts.