Review: The Bowie Experience, Tunbridge Wells Assembly Hall Theatre by Anna Morell

The Bowie Experience

Tribute acts are a funny old game. Made or broken on the choice of bad pun band name and whether or not they take themselves seriously or take things as a bit of reflected glory in the back of a spit and sawdust venue in cheap wigs under the influence of cheap pints, as a punter, you’re never sure which you’re going to get.

We fear we’re in for a scaled up version of the latter. ‘Brilliant Adventure’ is playing as people take their seats – a World Of The Strange instrumental from 1999’s ‘Hours’. It’s an odd choice, more appropriate for an evening with a clairvoyant. Cheap looking backdrops don’t help instil confidence. But then the band take up position, and a confident nasal voice commands: “Ground control to Major Tom”.

It only takes a couple of songs to suspend the disbelief. Laurence Knight’s Bowie is as close as we can come now to the real thing, chin out, defiant, thin as a whip in a trademark gaudy catsuit on a plinth of Penguin book spines. He strides through ‘Queen Bitch’ and ‘Starman’, before strutting off stage, and back on again, in a Kansai Yamamoto kanji cloak from the Aladdin Sane era, before a hikinuki reveal of feather boa and one-legged, one-armed Spandex from the same tour.

‘Life on Mars’ has a deep, rocky, almost ‘Mister Blue Sky’ energy to it live, ‘Moonage Daydream’ is actually better than some old original live footage, and the iconic Space Samurai jumpsuit looks fantastic.

The band are brilliant – tight as a catsuit, with Tim Wedlake, a veteran riff-perfect session guitarist who mimics Mick Ronson and Robert Fripp perfectly deserving special mention. The hits (and a good slug of album tracks) keep coming, bringing home just how astonishing Bowie was as a songwriter. By the interval, the audience is up and shaking it to ‘Rebel, Rebel’, before an 80s-led second half, with Knight ditching the 70s mullet for Bowie’s suit ‘n’ tie ‘n’ smooth blonde crop look. A thoughtful digression into ‘Where Are We Now?’ from 2013 is the only pause for breath between a slew of pop hits: ‘China Girl’, ‘Fashion’, ‘Ashes To Ashes’, ‘Young Americans’ – they’re all here. By halfway through these, there is a full-on party in front of the stage.

It’s hard to command a stage as a solo artist – even harder to emulate one of the greatest acts there ever was. But Knight does it. A strong, solid tribute, which actually does manage to pay tribute, rather than just knock off. The only duff note is the backdrops, which have a strong taint of ‘The Rock n Roll Years’ to them – cheap, obvious, clip art writ large. Ignore them. A night like this is about the music. Let’s dance.

The Bowie Experience tours the UK is at the Hazlitt Theatre, Maidstone on 9 February 2018.