Prove your humanity

Thursday night’s Stardust concert on September 17 saw the Perth Symphony Orchestra rise from the ashes of their COVID-induced hiatus like the wonderfully unconventional and show-stopping phoenixes they are.

One look at the crowds eagerly packing the HBF stadium made it clear Stardust was no traditional orchestral concert. Far from the restrained and immaculate crowds you’d expect from Perth’s Concert Hall, this crowd seated the young beside the old. People buzzed with excitement and rekindled memories and replaced their ‘Sunday best’ with lightning bolt face paint and outrageous outfits. Regardless of their backgrounds, everyone was there for one reason, their shared adoration of David Bowie.

For an orchestra that prides itself on breaking rules, David Bowie was the perfect tribute. His music is remembered for its experimental boldness and human truthfulness, while he himself sparked social revolutions with his personal style and courage.

The tribute exploded into action with Under Pressure, led by guest performers, Steve Hensby and Addison Axe whose dual personas of ultra-cool, collected calmness and unbridled energy and confidence perfectly encapsulated the Bowie they came to remember.

The concert rapidly alternated between major hits and nostalgic classics; Henley led a haunting rendition of The Man who Stole the World, backed with the melodic eeriness of PSO’s violinists and string musicians before rousing crowds with the feel-good grooviness of Golden Years.

In a suit that would’ve made Bowie proud, Axe let a Dance Magic rendition which shook cobwebs off the shyest guests, demanding they accompany her on the infamous chorus. After three ‘practice’ attempts, the orchestra launched into the ultimate musical nostalgia trip, punctuated by the slightly out of tune contributions of the crowd. By the song’s final note, many were on their feet and dancing in the aisles, as Bowie would have wanted.

Other highlights like Dance Magic and Ashes to Ashes were interspersed with reflections on Bowie’s life and musical career before Heroes concluded the first act, allowing the crowd a moment to catch their breath.

The second act saw Hensby rocking an iconic red wig while Axe ironically sported an American flag trench coat as they both performed I’m Afraid of Americans. All the while PSO rose to the occasion and crushed the song’s signature jarringly techno-dystopian melodies.

Starman, in all its plaintive funk was a moment of pure brilliance for the PSO brass performers but was quickly eclipsed by Hensby’s emotional Space Oddity. Simply standing in front of the orchestra who swayed to the unusually slow and melancholic rendition, Hensby’s stillness gave the song a moment of serenity and sadness. Like the performers, the crowds were basked in blue-white light, as though transported to the surface of the moon where they hung, not daring to move in their seats.

The final song, Rebel, Rebel roused people from their seats to dance in the aisles and sing along unabashedly, before leading a standing ovation. As soon as they’d left the stage however, Axe and Hensby returned for an encore of Let’s Dance and Modern Love as the orchestra stood with their instruments to dance and sing along. The show was officially concluded with a breathtaking saxophone solo and a second standing ovation.

Stardust was a beautiful celebration of everything that Bowie was and still is to many, as well as who he is yet to become for many more. The Perth Symphony Orchestra not only united generations of fans but sent many away with tears in their eyes and invisible lightning bolts across their faces and hearts.