What a night…

Without a doubt, the best live concert I’ve ever attended in my entire life was David Bowie’s Serious Moonlight, here in Toronto on a hot, humid September night waaaaaay back in 1983 at the good old CNE Stadium, (remember that place?). Although I also went to his Glass Spider tour in 1987, it didn’t quite have the electrical spark that Serious Moonlight did. There was just something indescribable about that night, that performer, and the super-charged audience that sent Serious Moonlight over the edge and into Toronto concert history (folklore, even?).

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For some reason or other, the memories of that concert came into my mind the other day and I thought – hey! – what a great post this would make for the blog. I won’t, though, attempt to write a review for the Serious Moonlight concert; rather, I’m going to simply reminisce about it. All these years later I still cannot put into words what that concert meant to me; the intensity of the crowd, concert and performer all fused together to create a magical night.

I went digging in my memorabilia and found the concert program, carefully and lovingly preserved, from that night lo these many years ago. As is my way, I had meticulously scotch-taped my original ticket to the inside front cover of the program for safekeeping. The critical details of the ticket read:

David Bowie – The Serious Moonlight Tour
September 3, 1983, 8:30PM
CNE Stadium
General Admission (floors), $22.50

Wow! – “General Admission” seating! Who could ever forget that mad dash across the playing field to the front of the stage as soon as the gates would swing open. I believe “General Admission” seating has long been abolished in concert-going as, to be honest, it was kind of dangerous (it’s that old fear of being crushed to death in the rush of 10,000 rabid fans all trying to reach the front of the stage at the same time).

There were two Serious Moonlight shows in Toronto that year – Saturday, September 3rd and Sunday, September 4th – and they were both sold out with 60,000 fans in attendance each night. The opening act was Rough Trade, and I remember Carole Pope and Kevan Staples absolutely blowing the crowd away with their performance. I still remember how dynamic they were that night, with Carole Pope strategically grabbing and working her crotch during that key lyrical moment in Highschool Confidential (if you’re Canadian and were even slightly plugged in to music during the late 70s/early 80s, you know exactly what I’m talking about here).

When I went searching on the Internet for a little more info on the Serious Moonlight concert tour in Toronto, I was shocked at how much these two shows have been discussed and documented over the years by other Torontonians. Several bloggers I found in my search have documented extremely in-depth reviews and impressions of those two nights. Apparently the show on the following night (September 4, 1983) had a surprise appearance and performance by Mick Ronson, Bowie’s longstanding collaborator from the early days. By all accounts I’ve read, the crowd went absolutely ballistic when Ronson came onstage and joined the band for some numbers.

Crowd shot

In her autobiography Anti Diva, Rough Trade’s Carole Pope talks about their opening for Bowie at this concert:

When Bowie hit the stage, I stood riveted in the wings… David stood at the lip of the stage singing ‘Modern Love’ shaking one leg like Elvis. The show was an amalgamation of music and theatre. While performing ‘Cracked Actor’, Bowie was seated in a director’s chair, wearing dark glasses; like a new wave Hamlet, he sang a soliloquy to a skull… Bowie grossed $2.3 million from that show.

Bowie with skull

It has been 35 years since that concert so only parts of it remain sticking to my brain cells. I recall, though, certain “snapshots” and short segments of that incredible powerhouse show. I remember, quite vividly, Bowie hovering over the crowd on an elevated cherry picker machine singing Space Oddity, and I remember the Cracked Actor segment (pic above) with Bowie singing to a skull. He also did a great job on Velvet Underground’s White Light/White Heat, and tore the place up when he kicked into Rebel Rebel. It took two encores before the crowd would let him leave the stage for the night.

This is the concert setlist for the Serious Moonlight concert tour. It was the same setlist for both nights of the Toronto shows, as well as for other Canadian dates:

Look Back in Anger
Heroes
What in the World
Golden Years
Fashion
Let’s Dance
Breaking Glass
Life on Mars?
Sorrow
Cat People (Putting Out Fire)
China Girl
Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)
Rebel Rebel
White Light/White Heat
Station to Station
Cracked Actor
Ashes to Ashes
Space Oddity
Young Americans
Fame
TVC 15

Encore 1:
Star
Stay
The Jean Genie

Encore 2:
Modern Love

The performers that night were:

David Bowie – lead vocals, guitar, saxophone
Earl Slick – guitar
Carlos Alomar – guitar, backing vocals, music director
Carmine Rojas – bass guitar
Tony Thompson – drums, percussion
Dave Lebolt – keyboards, synthesizers
Steve Elson – saxophones
Stan Harrison – saxophones, woodwinds
Lenny Pickett – saxophones, woodwinds
George Simms – backing vocals
Frank Simms – backing vocals

David Bowie On Serious Moonlight Tour

Here is the original Toronto Star article and concert review by Peter Goddard (who, if memory serves, covered just about every Toronto concert of any importance in the 80s and beyond):

60,000 berserk over Bowie

60,000 go wild for Bowie - Peter Goddard concert review

Sadly, Mr. Bowie left us a couple of years ago, but what a legacy he left behind! It is staggering. Over the course of 40 years, possibly more, he changed music and pop culture as we know it.

I am so grateful I was there in that 60,000-strong audience on that hot, humid night in 1983-Toronto. Years from now, when I’m sitting in my rocking chair swaddled in an electric blanket or some such heat-producing device, I hope I will still retain some of the special memories of that incredible night.

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