There's hardly a sacred cow holier in rock 'n' roll than David Bowie. This writer has long considered him the pinnacle of glam, experimental, pop rock, and alternative rock. Despite the fact that Bowie himself has admitted he co-opted it all from the likes of T. Rex, Kraftwerk, and even the Pixies, no one did it better.
So how would one top the master? With tongue in cheek but also a tip of the hat. Bowie has long had a great sense of humor, and I'm sure he wouldn't mind what a bunch of 30-somethings have cooked up for the annual "Bowie in Space" tribute night at Miami's premiere English pub, Churchill's. Going into its fifth year, the title itself hints at the sly humor and affection these local Bowie fans have brought to their tribute ("Bowie In Space" comes from a Flight of the Conchords skit).
Many of those involved were introduced to Bowie via his starring role in Labyrinth, the 1986 Jim Henson movie in which Bowie played Jareth, AKA the Goblin King, lord to a raucous tribe of Muppet goblins. Ian Michael, a professional juggler, will be the evening's host. "I was 5 years old when I saw Labyrinth, and it left a lasting impression on me," he says.
Jareth makes a memorable entrance in the film, swooping through Jennifer Connelly's window in the form of a white owl. He transforms into his human form in a flutter of capes and curtains, mystically keeping a crystal ball rolling across one hand. Michael explains this is called "contact juggling" (a master juggler stood in for Bowie's arm). "I remember attempting contact juggling as a kid, after seeing it in Labyrinth," notes Michael, "but it was too difficult, so I gave up. Years later, after lots of practice, I started to get it. Now I always use contact juggling in my routines."
It makes sense to have a juggler involved in the show. Bowie first searched for fame as a mime, after all. Brian Blitzkrieg, vocalist of Armada!, says the theatrics behind this series of tribute shows, which began in 2010, came naturally. Armada! will once again be performing at this year's tribute show.
"Our blank canvas in 2009/2010 was the Churchill's Pub stage on what used to be an open-mic night. To our surprise, there was a lot of buzz around what we were doing. There was a crowd; people were dressing up for the shows. We don't just play the music like a dive bar cover band. We want these shows to be an event. David Bowie cosplay has been and will be a part of the show."
So start searching for a killer glam outfit — though it may be hard to top what the singers in Armada! and Fuck Yeah! have planned for the event. "I think I'm going to look a tad like Labyrinth Bowie," says Blitzkrieg. Like Michael, he too was exposed to Bowie via the film, though he credits his father for turning him on to Bowie's multilayered career. "Our set will go back as far as Ziggy and as recent as 'I'm Afraid of Americans,'" reveals Blitzkrieg.
But, of course, there will be some love for the songs Bowie composed for Labyrinth. "'Magic Dance' is a highlight of the show," notes Blitzkrieg.
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His collaborator, Andrew Schwartz, takes lead vocals on that song, wearing an outfit that pays tribute to Ziggy more than Jareth, which also reflects the group's nontraditional interpretation of the song, cutting back on the cheesy synths and adding a more aggressive punk-rock vibe inspired by Ziggy. However, Schwartz notes, the band doesn't sacrifice any of the original's fun. "When we perform it live," he says, "we get to experience and share that same sense of joy with the whole audience joining in to sing along. Plus I get to 'jump, magic, jump!' onstage in six-inch pink glitter platform heels, which is an experience in and of itself."
Bowie in Space. With covers of David Bowie's music by Armada!, Fuck Yeah!, Ryan Carney, 8shift8, Early Bird, DJ DeadHead (Sinister, Legion, Cyberia) and DJ 138 (Elysium). Juggling by Dangerfun Sideshow. 8 p.m. Thursday, July 9, at Churchill's Pub, 5501 NE Second Ave., Miami. Free for 21 and up. $5 for under 21. Ages 18 and up.