THE man who personally defined the word androgynous long before Prince came on the scene - and who sported more costumes and characters than any star before or since - is now just plain David in a dark suit. At the final concert of his ``Sound + Vision'' tour at Giant Stadium in New Jersey, David Bowie proved brilliantly that in 1990 his music can stand on its own - without the trappings of a Ziggy Stardust, an Alladin Sane, or a Thin White Duke, much as we still love them all.
This was no-frills Bowie at his best, singing and playing guitar with his band for a night full of Bowie classics. The tour was inspired by the ambitious Bowie reissue program being carried out by Rykodisc, a feisty, high-quality independent recording company in Salem, Mass.
The tour may originally have sounded like a contradiction in terms with the ever forward-looking, experimental Bowie doing a concert tour of ``old stuff.'' But the result is that he has emerged more strongly than ever as a composer. Composing is, after all, his forte.
And he's covered a lot of ground in his more than 20-year career - from his Ziggy Stardust period through the Thin White Duke; and from his heavily Beatle-influenced years right up through his development into a true original. He's a man who rescued the '70s from the musical doldrums, continued to develop himself during the '80s, and undoubtedly has something new up his sleeve for the rest of the '90s.
The ``Sound + Vision'' tour was just about the perfect retrospect for the music of David Bowie. It was basic and stripped-down, except for a scrim that was lowered periodically, which showed gigantic images, mostly black and white, mostly of Bowie, projected on it.
The concert opened with an enormous Bowie head that dwarfed the real Bowie, who stood singing and playing his guitar at a far corner of the stage. The scrim offered an element of drama the audience needed, while leaving Bowie free to concentrate on the music.
The rest of the evening Bowie sang and played many of his classic hits: ``Rebel Rebel,'' ``Blue Jean,'' ``Let's Dance,'' ``Young Americans,'' ``Ashes to Ashes,'' ``Fame,'' and ``Changes,'' among others. He was in excellent voice, with his deep baritone seemingly rising from his shoes, his widening vibrato enhancing rather than detracting from his style.
Some highlights were ``Ziggy Stardust,'' with its irresistible guitar hook, which Bowie and the band pulled off with considerable charm and energy; the still-stylish ``Fashion,'' to which Bowie added a dark, almost ominous feel; and ``Young Americans,'' in which giant flames crept up the scrim as Bowie collapsed to the floor when he reached the line ``break down and cry.'' He stayed on the floor so long that people began to wonder - is he really all right? Then, suddenly, he leaped to his feet and charged into an aggressive, rocking ``Suffragette City,'' and finally ``Heroes,'' a theme that's still apparently relevant in the '90s and was one of the most moving moments of the show.
BOWIE'S guitarist, Adrian Belew, added something extra to every song, bringing even Bowie's lesser compositions to new life, pushing the boundaries every time. Belew is a brilliant musician; he plays with a combination of wild abandon and precision-like focus. On ``Pretty Pink Rose,'' for example, which really isn't much of a song, Belew was frenetically thrilling. His guitar shrieked as his fingers scampered across the strings, sometimes taking feverish swipes at the frets.
Bowie's audience ranged in age from about 2 years to 60 plus. It was a kind of d'ej`a vu to watch girls who were barely born when Bowie came on the scene screaming and quivering at his every gesture.