Jeff Duff celebrates Bowie at Hope Estate Vines with Australian Symphony Orchestra

Posted on 17th October 2016

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Pre-show promo pic of Housden, Stace, Ellis, Balbi and Duff

Pre-show promo pic of Housden, Stace, Ellis, Balbi and Duff

Jeff Duff—together with Steve Balbi and Brydon Stace—performed 3 hours of David Bowie songs at the Hope Estate, Pokolbin this last Saturday (15 Oct 2016). While the Stones, Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles have played there before, this show surely topped the lot in having George Ellis conducting the Australian Symphony Orchestra as "back-up".

Set in New South Wales’ Hunter Valley wine region, it was a perfectly sunny, 360º cloud-free day, the show commencing at sun-down: circa 7:00 p.m., and not letting up by 10:30 p.m..

George Ellis is well-known for his conducting job at the opening of the Sydney Olympics in 2000, and also his work in musical education. He comes with some rock sensibility as well, having been part of Sydney’s 1980s post-punk band-scene (Weekend Australian, 2010.04.10-11). Sporting the Aladdin Sane make-up, he also took the audience’s breath away from the start when, on first turning to face the orchestra to raise his baton, the iconic lightening flash was seen to adorn the back of his coat. So he set the stage ablaze! But then—we drew our breaths again—: by opening with the Bowie/Eno instrumental Warszawa (see youtube), we were offered an evocative sample from Bowie’s oeuvre, one that recalled how Bowie himself opened his “white light” shows of the late ’70s. So the show commenced by emphasising the art of the MainMan ahead of the party. So true to Ellis’ word ahead of the show, as reported in the Newcastle Herald (2016.06.30):

 The Thin White Duke’s music lends itself beautifully to the array of colours of the orchestra. Rich textures and harmonies weave in and out of his songs, making them perfect to decorate. George Ellis

Balbi opened the first song-set with Ziggy Stardust. He also took over most of the glam-era numbers, including Diamond Dogs, Rock-n-Roll Suicide and Jean Genie; as well as a stomping, über-funky, pleasantly mad Fame, coaxing it out in mind-splitting saxophonic treats from Ross Middleton. With Quicksand, Balbi reached back to Bowie as pre-funk, pre-icon poet-philosopher; and together with Life on Mars, had the orchestra making a particularly prominent and powerful contribution. Balbi’s stagework was as stunningly idiosyncratic as usual; the whole ecstatic messiah treatment (as also at, e.g., the 2012 Ziggy Show).

Stace offered his Olympian energy and polished vocals (a siren here, a tornado there) to a wide array of songs, from Ashes to Ashes to The Man Who Sold the World (see youtube) to Sorrow. Also as professional and breath-taking were the dazzling array of dance-figures that kept popping out from his every joint. Quite the stadium performer, commanding every possible precipice and pedestal of the huge stage with his muscular Freddie Mercurial stances.

And Jeff Duff. Doing the more emotive songs … an artful Lazarus (as previously seen at the Enmore and the Basement bio launch), and Wild is the Wind (as also seen at the Sydney Opera House). So he took to the stage with cool, meditative strides in the manner of Bowie himself, as he approached the Glastonbury stage. Also on board for the baritone singing; Let’s Dance, China Girl … Also a recall of his touching eulogy for Bowie. Of course there were doses of his "naughty" patter and moves, but the bulk of his challenges to the audience were to honour the MainMan who the "ten thousand peopleoids" or such had come to party in the spirit of.

The trio emerged to give a combined effort on Five Years, "Heroes" and (for encore) Rebel Rebel and Suffragette City, while Duff and Stace did their usual combo for Under Pressure (as also seen at the Enmore Theatre and the Sydney Opera House), and so Duff and Balbi on Space Oddity (as seen on Channel 10 TV). Costume-changes for every song, too; Duff, say, in his golden outfit for Golden Years (see youtube), then in red with top-hat (just his style) for Space Oddity, his new space-helmet with white Pierrot suit for Starman, and so on.

Jak Housden doing Moonage Daydream with a top-level voice of Bowie and guitar of Mick Ronson—as at the legendary Santa Monica gig. Interesting to see Jess Ciampa in his orchestral home, and to see more of the band’s newcomer Christo (Station to Station).

Lighting was exceptional, too. Working with a ring of lights about the huge disc above the stage—always projecting a close-up of the singers in song, or a deft selection of Bowie pics—the stage could be lit at times like the centre of a supernova, or the halls of Lang’s Metropolis. Sound was booming but bright; bringing out the aural delights of the orchestral strings to emotional splendour, as in Quicksand, or simply striking out the rhythms in body blows through, say, Fame. All radiating out from the huge, towering stage, the effect was of a constant tidal-wave of multi-sensory provocation.

Stage management was also interesting to watch; emergencies portended and avoided, mics arighted, and so on, with ardent precision.

And so it ended as Duff prophesied ahead of the show in the Maitland Mercury (2016.09.28):

 It’s going to be challenging, this eclectic rock band with acoustic strings. [But] Bowie used a lot of orchestral arrangements, it suits David Bowie more than most artists. It will be really exciting. … It does sort of build up to this raging climax and we do end up rocking out at the end. Even the violins and cellos will be rocking out. Jeff Duff

Harpist and singer-songwriter Anna Morgana opened the event. Blends of Keyes, Hagen, P. Smith, Bush, maybe, but certainly, as someone behind me said, "she sounds like some Australian singer". That was also a discovery to keep making.

Good to see an Artist Merchandise stall. Duff’s autobiography for sale (it’s always tempting to get yet another one!), and the DVD of Colin Hay‘s Ziggy/Unzipped live show videos (see the TUBES database; I got mine, to add to the TRACKS database).

For PIX of the gig, see Tania Smith’s album here, and Russell Cherry’s album here; like this one ahead of the classic electric fellatio scene, and a simple, all dude family-shot:

See why Duff calls Housden his Mick Ronson (and why Bowie called Ronson his Jeff Beck) in this searing solo by Housden on Ziggy Stardust

See the Bowie Unzipped site for more Duff/Bowie gigs—including his January 2017 tour including NSW, Vic, SA and WA.

~ And a thank you to the Zepher bus-blokes for getting me there and back to Central, and even championing me with a round of applause for topping their Bowie quiz! Did I get an extra point for getting Iman’s surname right? Or was it just that I didn’t confuse The man who fell to earth with The man who sold the world? We’ll never know. Meat-eaters bringing their deathly, smelly stuff on the bus aside (just to make a point), it was an easy and a glorious trip. Ta for stoking the flames with your Bowie Quiz—and for saving that back-seat.

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– rodg.

Ziggy returns

Posted on 25th January 2016

Ziggy The Songs of David BowieJeff Duff’s Ziggy: The Songs of David Bowie show returns to NSW venues in June 2016—as reported by noise11.com.

5 dates announced so far—from Newcastle to Wollongong—including a station to station dash from the Thirroul show down south on a Friday up to the Enmore Theatre, Newtown, on the Saturday. See the “Hot stuff” sidebar for dates.

Going by previous Ziggy shows, Duff might well lead the band and feed the crowd with performances of Ashes to ashes, China girl, "Heroes", Let’s dance, Sorrow, Space oddity, Starman, Young Americans and the ever-astounding rendition by Duff of Wild is the Wind à la Bowie.

With Brydon Stace on board for the high-top singing, he might also pull out Under pressure. And with Steve Balbi on board, there’s a good chance of burning off on a blistering Moonage daydream.

There are plenty of ‘tubes out there to get an early fix of the show, as performed at the Sydney Opera House, the Enmore Theatre, et al., in previous years. See the duffstuff catalogue of Duff tubes here—links to 17 tubes from the Ziggy Shows, + 31 from the Bowie Unzipped shows. For example, for starters:



Blogposts/Reviews re earlier Ziggy shows: 2014, 2013 and 2012 at the Opera House, 2012 in Adelaide, and 2011 at the Enmore Theatre.

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– rodg.

Ziggy Opera House

Posted on 4th July 2012
Ground Control is counting down – Sydney time – until Show Stopper #1, über alles at the Grande Maison d’Opera:

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Trust Duffophiles that, on these Ziggy nights, at the Sydney Opera House, all minds will explode in unison by the highest blasts of Bowie art. Read about this September 2012 show and buy tickets here at the Sydney Opera House site. “Mind-blowing”, “all killers, no fillers” are words used to describe the Ziggy Shows thus far by Duff and associates.

The show has evolved from what Duff was doing in the 1990s, and touring in one-man form in NSW in the 2000s; you could have been tragically flicking, like me, through a Wyong newspaper, one day in about 2006, and come upon a photo and story re Duff covering Bowie and Sinatra songs, in costume, at the local footy club. There was a residency at Sydney’s The Vanguard in 2009, where the show came in four themes, a different one each weekend of October.

A bigger show, focussed on Bowie alone, integrating the best of these experiments, booked out Sydney’s State Theatre in 2010, when Duff was joined by Steve Balbi, Brydon Stace and Iota, ahead of a band of good repute. With reliable music and exciting vocal talents, and dance-steps, the show came in ever cooler costume changes across switches from arresting solos to all-out rock and funk band-heavy numbers.

Then there was the Enmore Theatre show: now a rock concert crafted with Duff, Balbi, Paul Capsis and Christa Hughes as the keys to the drama, each putting their own stamp on the show in sets of one or two solo leads of a brassy rock band. “Wild is the wind” by Paul Capsis any one? “Suffragette City” by Christa Hughes any one? And who do you think took the Mercury part in the fierce Duff-led “Under Pressure”?

Duff, Balbi and Stace next took the show to the Adelaide Festival this June, and now it’s onto the Opera House this September. But how has the show evolved? Where will Duff be when he’s supposed to be at the Sydney Opera House, for fruck’s sake, before a gaping crowd, all of us gapers on his side? “It will surely be beyond evolution” said an old Messiah, coming back for a tick.

What’s extra great about all these Bowie shows, and Duff’s recorded covers of Bowie, is that there’s never an effort to just mimic Bowie. Everyone, including we the audience, is in on the game – but we know the artists are referencing. It’s how they reference that matters, what we especially enjoy, seeing our glam needs nicely exploited by genuine talent.

Duff is “job ready” to put on a show at the Opera House, it’s an old stomping ground of his. Sydney gets prized again, this September 2012, with another Duff experience upon one of the heighest artistic stages of all ages. It’s like hearing the songs of Osiris off the top of the Sphinx. But that’s enough verbal filigree for now, enough emotional pornography for you – but how this news doth swell the Duffophile’s bosom with a hearty pride of passion.

When you have trouble communicating to yourself over a cup of coffee, with only a blank piece of paper in front of you – you just have to think of these people – like Duff, Balbi and Stace – who express themselves and communicate to us for a living, who have the courage to become significant in other people’s minds, day by day. There are thugs in the Cross who, in spite of their fists and barbs, communicate zero passion. On the other hand, there’s an essential Duff-Balbi-Stace Ziggy show to see.

Whole lot of tubes about the Ziggy tour
Opera House links – including Tour Trailer and guest-spots on Australian TEN news (g’luck with v connexion)


And so the show has ended, the crowds dissipated under Duffological spell, his Mesmeric gestures, his capture and alarm of the crowd, from his now signature jog to “Let’s Dance” and his first steps into the space before us, his pean to the “Young Americano” and all that’s recalled by so many reviewers more articulate than me as a “loss for words,” “engrossing” … describing Duff’s very presence on stage, let alone his mastery of music and gift of song. On that point, no golden words are spent or rare enough. The second set appearance of Duff upped the spectacle – with bright Bowie-bedecked leotard (or some glam-Nipon smattering upon it), dark and shimmering stockings, high white boots, curt curled-back platinum hair, a Warholian vision; thankfully Duff did little more in movement than give us a slow slide across the stage, fully aware of his potential energy and the bomb he could unfurl. We were all especially aghast by Track 3: his gift of Bowie’s “Wild is the Wind” – and thereupon I spare my words and must truncate the superlatives for now …

and remark, in turn, on Steve Balbi. Balbi channels and accentuates the essential Ziggy themes of the mortal god, rock shaman, sacrificed messiah, romantic suicide-poet, blind Baptist preacher, from Morrison to Morrissey, a salve to common human weaknesses and wretchedness, absorbing the natural ills and turmoils of each member of the mob, giving licence to their right to party, stirring them into soul-healing ecstasy, sans any artifice of religiosity. At one point, at the end of a song, Balbi mentioned, or questioned, the greatness of being alive – and that was precisely what was on my thoughts and doubtlessly those of others at that time – the basic blessedness of being sensate, and sorry for the dead souls who could not be party to the magnificence of our present party. Balbi crafts iconics in his show before us – including moments with a long-stemmed rose, gifted to a rollicking audience member, and a certain kiss on the butt of Duff – quoting that rock-iconic oral gesture of Bowie upon Ronno. Balbi also offered the most startling lighting effect of the night – among several – what with his suit stripped off a mirror-ball.

Brydon Stace was the Young Americano Davido – funky, full of flair – right down to the hem of his pants – actually, a suit that some Duffologists suspect came out of the Duff closet itself. Stace also offered – with Duff stoking on the side – all the wails that earthlings could imagine a human voice to utter in taking the Freddie Mercury part in “Under Pressure”. Plain listening became all the more hallucinogenic one moment after the other, thanks to Stace punching powerfully through the pitches of this song.

It was also a boon to see some serious merchandising outside in the hall. Did you get the Ziggy Show badge, the Ziggy Show poster, Duff’s Fragile Spaceman CD (includes a pretty “Ziggy Stardust”), the Ziggy Show T-shirt, the Duff/Wilson Big Band CD – and sign the email list? I did – no losers here. Thanks, it seems, to EmpireTouring, for getting this side of the act together.

There are some youtubes of the event to be seen, like this Wild is the Wind, with the band in their Duffo-naut outfits straight from NASA.

There’s perhaps never been a time like this one of ours today when every Tom, Dick and Sally is trying to be a “genuine artist”. There are university courses you can do with government support to get you to the “emerging” stage. That ends you up lauded with all the respect we give to well-boiled eggs. The career clincher is on TV shows franchised across the world like hamburgers, where the rent-a-crowd gives you standing ovation for wailing out a note for some five seconds or so, then you smirk and curtsey with faint gratitude before the criticism of mega-super-überstars born yesterday: “I’m proud of all my failures and successes” you stubbornly pronounce to more applause.

A Duff show is essential, more than all television.

Review of the 2012 show at AussieTheatre.com.

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    – rodg.
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