Review: Live on Mars at Cambridge Corn Exchange “So good I could stay here forever”

Alex Thomas as David Bowie in Live on Mars

Alex Thomas as David Bowie in Live on Mars - Credit: Archant

As the guitar came in with the sultry, hypnotic line that drives The Man Who Sold The World (title track of David Bowie’s third album), you could feel the anticipation in the audience for singer Alex Thomas to enter with the well-known yearning vocal. Along with it, the Latin beat of this tune sent an electrifying pulse through the crowd.

The song, the second played by the Live On Mars band, foreshadowed what was to come throughout the night, an exploration of the many faces of David Bowie. In a BBC interview in 1997 Bowie had said, “That song for me always exemplified kind of how you feel when you’re young, when you know that there’s a piece of yourself that you haven’t really put together yet...” echoed in the line, ‘I searched for form and land/ For years and years I roamed.’

There was a definite sense of a journey throughout the evening, as well as a passage of time, that came from the skilfully curated visuals projected behind the band. As the audience had entered, footage of the moon landing could be seen on stage, followed by Thomas appearing from darkness to launch us into the first song of the evening, the iconic Space Oddity. We were embarking upon a mission to witness the many lives of David Bowie. The set list was spliced with footage and audio of Bowie in conversation and backstage transforming into his various guises that he shed like old skin to reveal his latest embodiment.

To refer to the show as a tribute act, (which can have a stigma) is to do the production a disservice on account of the stunning vocals of Alex Thomas and the raw energy and talent of James Cole, Michael Gay on guitar and vocals, Edgar Jones on bass and vocals, Rob Stringer keyboards and vocals and Phil Murphy on drums. Far from the fear of a pot-bellied man in Spandex and a wig, these guys were cool and would not have been out of place on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury.

The crowd were delighted with hit after hit with the first half concluding with a superlative performance of ‘Young Americans’ where Thomas played a winning sax solo. Here the graphics added narrative to the song and context to the world in which Bowie created his music. We saw footage of the American dream in the form of mid-twentieth century TV commercials, and the reality of the streets of the US with video of demonstrations.

At the bar during the interval, I overheard one fan say, brimming with excitement, “It’s so good. I could stay here forever.”

The band kicked off the second half with the epic, stomping riff of Rebel Rebel. Charged with a new energy, members of the audience took to the aisles to dance.

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This was my only regret. That I wasn’t seeing them play in a band venue where you could stand in a crowd and dance, but as live music goes, these lads are impressive and do justice to the legend that is David Bowie.