David Bowie's last show in Toronto was at the Air Canada Centre on April 1st 2004. He was touring for the "Reality" album and of course nobody knew then that this tour would be among the last chances to see him live. "Reality" was a strong album, a continuation of a return to form that started with "Heathen" signaling an end to the troubled nineties era where he drifted between sounds and styles without the same direction and purpose he had shown earlier in his career. "Reality" saw Bowie with a renewed purpose, a vitality that he hadn't shown in years, and of course the shows that he played in support of that album reflected that same purpose and vitality.
Originally set for a date in December the year prior, the April show was a rescheduled date due to illness so by that point there was some considerable anticipation from the audience who had been waiting extra long for the show to happen. I went with my friend Charlotte with a pair of tickets in the stands along the side a few rows up from the floors just one section away from the stage. Not too close, but not too far, just the right spot to get some perspective and still see things in detail.
The show opened with a reworked
version of Rebel Rebel, the band walking out and vamping on the
instrumental opening for a bit before Bowie appeared. Earl Slick was on
guitar, Gail Ann Dorsey on bass, Mike Garson on keyboards, and a few others
from past tours rounded out the band making for a slick and tight unit
that complimented and built on the songs well. Having all played
with Bowie for so long there was a great chemistry between them and that added a lot to the show.
The set was pretty diverse and covered a wide range of tracks from across the years with a fair focus on "Reality" but enough classics to keep the excitement going. New songs like New Killer Star and Never Get Old were paired well with Hang on to Yourself and Fame. There was a spectacular version of Ashes to Ashes with an extended piano solo from Mike Garson that was a particular highlight in my mind. The encores included a suite of songs from "Ziggy Stardust" which was an excellent way to end the evening.
Overall it was a great show, and I try not to dwell on the fact that it was the last time I saw him live, especially because this tour wasn't so much a marked ending as it was a transition into the next phase of Bowie's career, where he would become more private, more reclusive, and would create a new role and a new sound for himself yet again. I prefer to think of this show that way, as another transition in a long line of changes and growth that defined Bowie's entire body of work over the course of his life.
I guess that's one of the lessons I've learned from listening to Bowie for so long. When we think about things it's best not to look at beginnings and endings so much as we should think of transitions.