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Live On Mars review: A stellar tribute to music’s brightest starman

PUBLISHED: 09:40 06 November 2018 | UPDATED: 13:40 06 November 2018

Alex Thomas - Live On Mars frontman. Photo: Live On Mars

Alex Thomas - Live On Mars frontman. Photo: Live On Mars

Live On Mars

Live On Mars proved that tribute acts can rise above pale imitation as they channelled the spirit of a musical great at Norwich Theatre Royal on November 5.

I saw a David Bowie tribute act about 10 years ago in a small seaside town. It was about what you might expect from an imitation- a man with dyed orange hair in tight spandex doing a karaoke version of David Bowie hits. It was fun but it wasn’t much else and I’m not sure I would have looked on it favourably even if the real David Bowie hadn’t still been alive and well at that time. Live On Mars at Norwich Theatre Royal, however, was not a seedy imitation, in fact it was a world away from my first experience of Bowie tributes.

When the show opened with an seventies style animated sequence I was nervous that a cartoonish performance would follow. I needn’t have been. Seconds into the opening song, Space Oddity, it was very apparent that the Live On Mars band were extremely accomplished musicians and that no one was there to play dress up, the dynamic stage lighting set up the feel of decades past rather than dated costumes.

The big projector screen at the back of the stage hosted clips from seventies newsreel and music videos, film of Bowie himself mouthing the words songs as frontman (and Bowie for the night) Alex Thomas performed. This felt poignant rather than mawkish, celebratory not maudlin.

Thomas’ voice was distinctly Bowie-esque, with a cool performative edge and a range that enabled him to give absorbing performances of The Man Who Sold The World through to Life On Mars (the latter receiving an enthusiastic wave from the crowd on the line “from Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads”).

The crowd was obviously and unsurprisingly made up of Bowie fans, but this didn’t guarantee Live On Mars a warm reception - after all nothing will turn a crowd against you faster than butchering their favourite songs. However, the audience, easily picking up on the genuine enthusiasm and appreciation for the music the band and Thomas had, were extremely warm - many rising from their seats to demand an encore (which was granted) when the show closed with the iconic and evocative Heroes.

Every song was done justice but some covers were especially brilliant. Sound and Vision, Changes, Modern Love and Suffragette City were all stand out. To me the best part of the whole show was during a truly superb cover of Young Americans closing the first half of the set when, a few bars in, Thomas conjured a gleaming saxophone from seemingly nowhere and proceeded to masterfully play - as if he hadn’t impressed enough. When Thomas wasn’t playing or singing he was an oddly unassuming presence on the stage for someone so talented, very polite to the audience and very likable.

The show stuck mostly to a seventies sound track, straying over to the eighties for a few high points including Ashes to Ashes and Let’s Dance, and you can understand why - these really were Bowie’s Golden Years (also brilliantly covered).

At one point in between songs the projected video showed Bowie saying something along the lines of “It doesn’t matter how you dress a show, without substance it’s nothing and it won’t make an impact”. Thomas and his band clearly understand this very well.

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