Pianist Mike Garson, famous for his work with David Bowie, leads A David Bowie Celebration after splitting off from the competing Celebrating David Bowie tour (both groups are now active). This year's "Alumni Tour" features, Garson says, the best group of musicians yet. Unfortunately, Garson recently lost his home in the fires, and he's treating the Bowie tour as a welcome distraction. The tour hits L.A. this week, though it was in Europe when we chatted with Garson.
L.A. WEEKLY: We're so sorry to hear you were affected by the fires — are you back on your feet?
MIKE GARSON: I can’t say that. I’m on tour, though, and I’m talking to you from Amsterdam. My wife’s at home dealing with all the garbage and I feel worse for her than for me, because I’m playing music. But to lose everything — pianos and my whole studio — it was just a nightmare.
That's awful. Sorry, Mike. You're on tour now — tell us about the musicians in the band this time.
This is the best band so far. My life is always about changing and making things better, and this is the best so far. Earl Slick on guitar, who joined us in ’74. Mark Plati, who produced the Earthling album, and Hours. We have Carmine Rojas on bass — he played on “Let’s Dance,” the Serious Moonlight tour and Glass Spider tour. That’s four alumni, with myself. On drums, we have Earl Slick’s son, Lee John Mandeloni, who was mentored by our old drummer Sterling Campbell, who’s with the B-52’s. We have three amazing singers, including Bernard Fowler, who has been with The Rolling Stones for 30 years. We have Joe Sumner, Sting’s son. And I’ve added Corey Glover from Living Color. He sings “Changes” and “Ashes to Ashes.” It takes a village to play David Bowie’s music. I’m loving the ride, and it’s a nice distraction from the fire.
How do you pick the set list?
Sometimes, even if a musician didn’t play on a track, they’re Bowie fans so they know the music. With Earl Slick in the band, on this tour we’ll do “Sweet Thing” and “Candidate.” Mark Plati — maybe we’ll do a song from Hours or Earthling but he knows all the songs. In my playlist, I have 100 songs of David’s that I’m ready to do at any given moment. The band is ready to do about 40. It’s hard to pick. We do a combination of the great hits and then some more deeper catalog. I switch the songs from night to night to keep the band from getting lazy and going into a comfort zone.
Do you have a personal favorite?
On this tour it’s been “Sweet Thing,” “Candidate” and “Aladdin Sane.”
Are there any you won’t touch?
I did “Lazarus” last night, and I couldn’t touch that years ago. Of course it’s now three years, and I’m pretty much able to do anything and have singers do anything that they love.
What do you think David would make of this show?
I said to the audience the other night that I think he’d be proud. Bernard and Corey are singing “Under Pressure,” and it feels like when David and Freddie Mercury sang it.
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How long do you think this show will carry on for?
I can see it going another 10 years, if not more. As long as the audience keep singing the songs and are happy, I’ll keep doing it. After that, we’ll pass it on to somebody else.
A David Bowie Celebration: The Alumni Tour takes place at 9 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 7, at the Orpheum Theatre.
Editor's note: This article has been amended to include the fact that Garson performed with the Celebrating David Bowie tour first.