One of the many benefits of a David Bowie tribute is that there are so many different David Bowies to pay tribute to.
The original rock 'n' roll shape-shifter has evolved into nearly as many iconic personas as he has records; over a wildly-diverse, four-decade-long career, that's a closet-full of costume changes -- speaking both musically and sartorially. It's also provided a boat-load of inspiration for this year's fifth annual Fool's Brigade Benefit -- Loving the Alien: A Tribute to David Bowie -- Friday, April 4, at the Visulite Theatre, beginning at 9 p.m. promptly.
In fact, before the final note had even finished ringing at last year's wildly successful tribute to The Kinks, there was already a groundswell for Bowie and his expansive catalog.
"The day after the show I got e-mails from people claiming their Bowie songs," laughs Bruce Hazel, who founded and organizes the annual event. "But it's like the 'calling shotgun rule' -- you've got to be so close to the car to call 'shotgun,' so we wanted to wait a bit. But it was going to be Bowie, that much was pretty obvious."
This year's benefit will be the biggest yet. Featuring nearly 20 acts and a house band of up to 20 members culled from even more local outfits, the response from musicians was overwhelming enough that this year's performers will be limited to two songs each, and the start time was moved up to 9 p.m.
The Bowie appeal, of course, is as diverse as his output.
"I just like that Bowie is so versatile," says The Virginia Reel's Neil Allen, "but it's always Bowie, and it's always fresh. I can like something off The Man Who Sold the World equally as much as something off of Lodger, though they're completely different sounds."
"Every year we do this, we always try to choose something classic and then something weirder if it's out there," says Scott Weaver, front man for Babyshaker and Snagglepuss member, "that wasn't a problem this time."
That diversity also enables the participating bands to take a whack at musical styles they might not otherwise try. From his Anthony Newly-inspired beginnings, hippie-friendly "Space Oddity" era and glam-king/queen Ziggy Stardust high point to his blow-fueled Aladdin Sane days, Berlin/Eno experimental era and King of Suave later years, the entire arsenal will get an airing at the benefit. And though the set list is a closely guarded secret, a sneak peek at some of the match-ups suggests the audience is in for a wild ride.
Another plus from the growing pool of participants is this year's house band will feature a string section, adding to previous years' horns and reeds players. With Bowie, it was almost a necessity.
"The other night at rehearsal it was unbelievable to hear how much it sounded like the records," says Hazel. "It was almost like the way his band might do it live, how they might rework it, but still pay homage to the original."
"It's got the Tony Visconti production values, but in a live setting," adds the Trouble Walkers' Mark Lynch.
Of course this being Bowie, there's no short-changing the visual aspect. A pair of Beatles boots or a velvet jacket may have gotten the point across at last year's Kinks' extravaganza, but the chameleon-like Bowie suggests a smorgasbord of vintage classic and/or edgy androgynous looks. Since many rock 'n' rollers don't mind a little dress-up, some of the busiest people will be the various makeup artists who've donated their time and skills.
As in past years, all proceeds will go to the Metrolina AIDS Project. But there are plenty of intangible benefits for audience members and participating musicians alike, chief among them pride in a vibrant local music scene.
"It's the one time that everybody who plays in all these different kinds of bands is all in the same place," says Weaver. "You know these people, you've crossed paths, but you wouldn't necessarily share a bill or go to the same shows, but all at once everybody's playing together. It's cool ... and no matter how good everybody is or how practiced you are, backstage everybody has the same kind of jitters -- they're covering something everybody knows, and expectations are really high."
Adds Dylan Gilbert, one of several musicians participating in their first Fool's Brigade, "I usually play solo, so it'll be a nice opportunity to play with some people and have a big band. But all these bands under one roof? That doesn't ever happen."
Once a year, grasshopper, it does. Welcome aboard.