Review – Sons of the Silent Age (Metro)
I got my flu shot on Thursday. By yesterday afternoon, I had a fever and the chills. The fever and chills weren’t because of the shot, as any doctor will tell you. They happened just because. Pure coincidence.
By about 7 p.m. last night, I felt significantly better, which was bizarre but totally convenient. My improved condition meant that I felt well enough to head out to Metro for the Sons of the Silent Age performance at Metro.
As Matt Walker explained on my January 2 podcast, Sons of the Silent Age was a (one-time only?) David Bowie tribute band created to headline a concert benefitting the Pablove Foundation‘s work in treating, educating, and empowering children and families affected by pediatric cancer.
The Sons of the Silent Age line-up included close to a dozen of Chicago’s finest players (Walker among them), and was primarily fronted by Chris Connelly, whose solo work had been channeling Bowie for countless years.
After a ramshackle, boozy, run-through of T Rex songs (including a gleefully punked up “20th Century Boy”) by mid-bill openers the Waco Brothers, the temperature inside Metro started to swell. Adding the outside’s relative warmth to the achingly sold out, capacity-filled, venue, Metro became an oven. I could swear I saw heat shimmers coming off the ground.
Sons of the Silent Age opened with my all-time favorite Bowie song, “Station to Station,” the dark and epic (in the non-overused sense of the word) title track from 1976. As the band kicked in with swirling and foreboding atmospherics, Connelly emerged from side stage wearing a black sport coat, white button down shirt, and dyed orange hair. He stood and waited for his moment; and sure enough, with “the return of the Thin White Duke, throwing darts in lovers’ eyes …,” it was clear — Connelly was Bowie, if only for the night.
Walker had prepared me for what he described as a “fan’s setlist,” mostly specific to Bowie’s fertile mid-late 70s output. Not only was it a fan’s setlist, I swear it was one I would have created. With meticulous focus on recreating every nuance from the source material, the band delivered hair-raising versions of fan favorites like “TVC 15,” “Scary Monsters,” “Look Back in Anger,” and “Queen Bitch.” A handful of sourpusses standing a few people away from me were loudly complaining about the set list and their lack of their familiarity with it. I willed them to Let’s Dance their way to the exit.
In addition to Connelly’s eerily spot-on conjuring of Bowie, Shirley Manson of Garbage stepped in to sing a few songs midway through the show (before returning for two encore duets, “Changes” and “Heroes”). As wonderful as she is as a frontwoman, her vocal turn was, in some ways, distracting from the show’s flow. The band’s performance, combined with Connelly’s presence, had been so “on” up until that point, that Manson was too much of a good thing (how many shows leave you thinking that?).
To her credit, Manson gender-bended “Boys Keep Swinging” beautifully, and delivered a powerful and emotional “Life on Mars?”.
Beyond Connelly, it’s hard to single out just one MVP performance from Sons of the Silent Age, although the guitar combination of Robert Byrne and Steve Gerlach was spectacular. There were moments when it sounded like Carlos Alomar and Mick Ronson were trading licks on stage.
I loved the one-off nature of the event. If the band were to do this again, it would feel much less special. Furthermore, this performance ruined me for any future cover or tribute bands (all due respect to Tributosaurus).