With more than one face in the foyer sporting an Aladdin Sane lightning bolt, it was clear that Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra wasn't playing Mahler. In fact, Starman, the APO's David Bowie tribute, treated a capacity audience to just over two solid hours of music that caught and defined an era.
If an effervescent Laughton Kora seemed a little nervous launching Space Oddity, it was momentary; within seconds, he, together with Jon Toogood, Julia Deans and Anna Coddington, took us on what would be an unforgettable journey.
In songs from Oh You Pretty Things to Station to Station Toogood's seasoned authority provided an anchor for the evening. An intensely moving Lazarus was heightened further by sax man Martin Kay strolling on stage, with a thrilling solo that may well have had cemeteries worried.
Time spent with the music of Brel and Joni Mitchell came through in Julia Deans' phrasing and pacing of Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes, yet she also cut loose for lively duets with Toogood and did a fine line in rallying the crowd. Kora's irrepressible energy set the party bopping in Young Americans and Anna Coddington redefined sleek cool in Fame and Sorrow.
The APO, under conductor David Kay, didn't always penetrate the mix as one might have liked but if rock must dominate, last night's band was tops with tight guitar solos from Jol Mulholland and crucial stylings from Penny Dodd on grand piano.
Starman was an exhilarating evening of glitter balls, hand clapping and dancing in the aisles that, along the way, reminded us of the epoch-setting power of one man's songs.
What: Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra Starman
Where: Aotea Centre
Reviewer: William Dart