As David Bowie’s keyboardist, Mike Garson admits he didn’t quite understand the popularity of the Thin White Duke.
“I was behind him, backing him up, so I saw his back,” Garson says via telephone from Europe. “I’ve seen YouTube videos and DVDs since his passing and this guy was even better than I thought.”
Now Garson is honoring the musician through Celebrating David Bowie, a concert featuring players who backed him and those who were influenced by him. It comes to the Mesa Arts Center on Wednesday, March 7, and to the Rialto Theatre in Tucson on Thursday, March 8.
One guest vocalist will be singer/producer Mr. Hudson. Others in the band include guitarist Earl Slick (Diamond Dogs, Young Americans and Reality); vocalist Bernard Fowler (The Rolling Stones) and bassist Carmine Rojas (Let’s Dance/Serious Moonlight Tour). Having just finished a European tour, Celebrating David Bowie has been a hit.
“The concerts are as loud as they were when David was here,” Garson says. “That’s the most amazing thing. He was more loved in Europe than the State. When we did the shows last year at the Wiltern (in Los Angeles) and in New York, it was equal in volume and enthusiasm. What was missing was David and his presence, humor and singing.”
On the European tour, Fishbone’s Angelo Moore led the band.
“Instead of one singer trying to do David Bowie, I have three to six guests popping in,” Garson says. “It gives a panorama of his work. Lorde sang with ‘Life on Mars’ with us at the Brits (Brit Awards). That didn’t feel like we were compromising. She made it her own.”
As for Bowie, Garson was always a fan of his, but heard his voice get “richer” in the 1990s and 2000s. Other things changed as well throughout the years.
“I was with him on the Nine Inch Nails tour,” he says. “I love Trent Reznor. We’re good friends. On that tour, they sang each other’s songs. It was mostly Trent’s fans at that time, though. We had to compete with a much-younger audience, and Nine Inch Nails was a much louder band.
“We had to add sub bass to our music to match their volume or it would have sounded like we were really outdated. I don’t know if that was a mistake or not.”
The concert’s setlist changes nightly and it’s something that thrills Garson, who serves as bandleader. One thing remains, however—the overwhelming emotions.
“It’s been bittersweet,” he says. “I think I cry every night. Sometimes the audience sees it; sometimes they feel it. It’s a group grief because he left us too soon. I was saying to one of the audiences that my biggest regret was taking certain things for granted. I just tell myself, ‘Oh, I screwed up that one.’”
Celebrating David Bowie, Mesa Arts Center’s Ikeda Theater, 1 E. Main Street, Mesa, 480.644.6500, mesaartscenter.com, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 7, $33-$68.
Celebrating David Bowie, Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress Street, Tucson, rialtotheatre.com, 8 p.m. Thursday, March 8, $46-$61.