Holy Holy The Opera House, Toronto ON, January 12
Published Jan 13, 2016There's a certain amount of erasure that happens when a singular performer like David Bowie eclipses the talent he surrounded himself with.
His name was the only one on The Man Who Sold The World's jacket, but he didn't write that album alone. During those sessions, Tony Visconti, who had produced and played bass on Bowie's previous record, was joined by guitarist Mick Ronson and percussionist Mick "Woody" Woodmansey, both of whom would go on to record Hunky Dory with Bowie and become the bedrock of his band, The Spiders From Mars.
In the context of his career, The Man Who Sold The World was his third album, but still a precursor to his first creative and commercial peak. It was heavier than anything he'd done at the time, and bubbled with new ideas like a glam rock primordial soup, while also sounding a bit like a hangover from the '60s. The Man Who Sold The World is a kind of transitional record in Bowie's discography, and because of that, it tends to get overshadowed, much like the band who helped make it. Enter Holy Holy.
Named for a Bowie single that was recorded just after those sessions, Holy Holy got together to play the record in its entirety, since Bowie had never done it himself. Joined by Glenn Gregory on vocals, Berenice Scott on keyboards, Visconti's daughter Jessica Morgan singing backing vocals and guitarists James Stevenson, Paul Cuddeford and Terry Edwards, Visconti and Woodmansey aimed not only to shine a light on an underrated collection of songs, but also claim ownership by airing out material that deserves to be played live by the people who made it.
But during their performance last night (January 12), they also served another purpose that had been unexpected when the show was originally booked: memorializing David Bowie himself. The Toronto show quickly sold out after the news of his death spread, with a second performance being added the next day, January 13. The Opera House was stuffed to capacity, filled with people connected Bowie's music, content to remember the man by singing along to the songs they knew so well.
The songs were raw, like a fresh wound, but the attitude in the room was jovial as the band played capably from "The Width Of A Circle" onward. The three guitarists embellished the aforementioned heaviness of the songs, making "Black Country Rock," "Saviour Machine" and "She Shook Me Cold" all highlights. Vocalist Glenn Gregory saw the line between imitation and tribute and walked it gracefully, being faithful to the original material without trying too hard to mimic Bowie.
It seemed that not everyone in the audience realized that the first purpose of the show was to honour a particular album. A couple perched on a staircase near the back of the venue, the man standing with his back to the stage for the entire performance, complained about "the lack of David Bowie songs" being played. Had they not left during "The Supermen" they would've maybe enjoyed the second half of the show a little better, which delved into Bowie classics like "All the Young Dudes," "Life On Mars?" and "Lady Stardust," the latter of which was sung by Jessica Morgan, who did an incredible job standing alongside her father.
It occurred while watching people in the audience sing, dance and cheer that while the first half of the show may have been about Holy Holy asserting their ownership and involvement in an underrated record, the second half was a reminder that these songs were ours too, a gift from someone who left this earth too soon, whose effect and influence will be felt for years to come.