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Ray Routhier

Portland Press Herald staff writer Ray Routhier will try anything. Once. During 20 years at the Press Herald he’s been equally attracted to stories that are unusually quirky and seemingly mundane. He’s taken rides on garbage trucks, sought out the mother of two rock stars, dug clams, raked blueberries, and spent time with the family of bedridden man who finds strength in music. Nothing too dangerous mind you, just adventurous enough to find the stories of real Mainers doing real cool things.

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Posted: April 2, 2019

The music of David Bowie performed live, by PortBowie, at Port City Music Hall

Written by: Ray Routhier

David Bowie performing in Italy in 2003. Fabio Diena/Shutterstock.com

The odds were good David Bowie would win.

About eight or nine years ago Portland singer Mat Zaro decided to round up some other Maine musicians for the Clash of The Titans series at Port City Music Hall. The series pitted one group of local musicians playing a set of covers by a single artist against another group covering another artist. But for this particular clash, Zaro and his bandmates were preparing to do Bowie songs while competing with another group performing the music of – wait for it – David Bowie.

Mat Zaro of PortBowie. Photo by Dylan Verner

Bowie’s catalog of music is so immense and diverse that it’s easy to field two groups at a time playing different songs of his. In fact, Zaro has found Bowie’s music so compelling and satisfying that he’s continued to play Bowie music ever since. For the past three years, he and drummer Luc Bergeron, along with others, have put together a Bowie tribute show in Portland performing under the name PortBowie. This year, that’s scheduled to happen Friday at the Port City Music Hall.

The group PortBowie will perform music by David Bowie Friday at Port City Music Hall in Portland.
Photo by Dylan Verner

And, even though its PortBowie’s only show of 2019, it’s not the first – or the last – Bowie tribute show happening in Maine this year. Last month, Bowie impersonator David Brighton performed in Orono with the Bangor Symphony Orchestra. A touring tribute show called “Live on Mars: A Tribute to David Bowie” is scheduled for May 30 at Aura – one of a few Portland venues that regularly book tribute shows because of a pent-up demand from an unfulfilled fan base. Based on the number of shows, Bowie’s might be the one of the biggest – or at least most eager to hear his songs live.

“As we’ve been doing this, we’re finding out just how many serious Bowie fans there are,” said Bergeron.

On Friday, Zaro, Bergeron and five other musicians will play all the songs from Bowie’s classic 1972 album “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars,” as well as selections from two 1990s albums, “Outside” and “Earthling.” The group will not dress up as Bowie or try to imitate him in any way.

“We play the music as accurately as possible, with the all the nuances of the material,” said Zaro.

Bowie died in 2016 at the age of 69, after selling 140 million albums over some 50 years in the music business.

Zaro and Bergeron had played together for about a decade in the Bob Charest Band, one of Portland’s best-known event bands, with a song list that spans a wide variety of pop, rock, Motown and R&B. So both have experience playing other people’s music. Both have played in other bands as well.

They say they picked “Ziggy Stardust” because it’s so well-known and well-loved, with tracks like “Suffragette City,” “Starman” and “Ziggy Stardust.” They picked the two lesser-known ’90s albums because of their “jungle drum and big bass” sound. And because they are so different from Bowie’s early work.

“It makes a great juxtaposition. ‘Ziggy’ is rock and roll, it’s more stripped-down and organic,” said Bergeron.

“I think Bowie’s fans always expected and wanted him to do something different every time. I think that’s what kept people coming back to him,” said Zaro. “I’ve been surprised to see just how many people are excited that we’re doing these (’90s) albums.”

Hard-core Bowie fans have their favorite songs, and Zaro and Bergeron are no different, though both say it’s tough to pick just one. Of the songs they’ll be performing at Port City Music Hall, Zaro named “The Voyeur of Utter Destruction” from “Outside” as one of his faves, while Bergeron picked “Little Wonder” from “Earthling.”

The other musicians performing as PortBowie include Scott Hughes and Jerry Perron on guitars, Jim Goss and Kris Rodgers on keyboards and piano, and Geoff Chartier on bass. Sound engineer Noah Cole will also be part of the live show.

IF YOU GO

PORTBOWIE 2019
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday
WHERE: Port City Music Hall, 504 Congress St., Portland
HOW MUCH: $12 in advance, $15 day of show.
INFO: portcitymusichall.com

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