Chico Fellini presents “Hang on to Yourself” – A Night of Bowie
9 p.m. Jan 12 at The Burl, 375 Thompson Rd. $10. www.theburlky.com.
January can be a pretty heady month for David Bowie fans. Witness, for example, what happened in 2016.
On January 8, the vanguard British artist turned 69. The same day, he issued his 25th and final studio album, “Blackstar.” Two days later, he died of complications from liver cancer.
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Picking up on what now stands as a dual anniversary of celebration and sadness is the Lexington pop/rock troupe Chico Fellini. The band will perform an entire evening’s worth of Bowie compositions on Jan. 12 at The Burl with the local new generation power trio Johnny Conqueroo opening.
Here is the intriguing part, though. As popular and visible as Chico Fellini was in Lexington clubs a decade ago for its own music, the quartet — vocalist Chris Dennison, guitarist Duane Lundy, bassist/keyboardist Emily Hagihara and drummer Brandon Judd — has largely been out of commission for the past two years. That makes Chico Fellini’s Burl show as much a reunion as a tribute to a rock and pop culture colossus.
Lundy said the members’ myriad outside projects, led by production work at his own local Shangri-La Productions, put Chico Fellini on indefinite hold following a 2016 performance at Crave Lexington and a subsequent show for The Burl’s grand opening.
“When you do music or any sort of collaboration that ends up dealing closely with your friends, things can tend to slip into a sort of limbo where most relationships don’t always do very well. The band stopped playing when my production schedule just got really, really busy. We needed to make some decisions. At that point, it was a little bit of a healthier route to put everything on pause. We’re all still really close friends, so every once in a while the idea to do something special comes up.”
Fast forward to a conversation Lundy had with mainstay Lexington drummer Robby Cosenza, who will be one of several guests augmenting the core Chico Fellini lineup this weekend. The two recalled a similar Bowie tribute the band staged in 2009 as Chico Fellini’s artful and inventive self-titled debut album was being readied for release.
“We were just chatting and I said. ‘That Bowie show was so much fun. I would love to hear Chris sing those songs again.’ That’s really all that it amounted to. Bowie’s birthday and the anniversary of his passing are real close together in January, so it seemed like a good thing to do. The Bowie thing was always a natural fit for Chris. But, really, who doesn’t want to play David Bowie tunes?”
While Bowie’s career spanned over 50 years, Chico Fellini will focus primarily on music he fashioned during an especially creative, prolific and commercially visible period during the ‘70s and early ‘80s. During those years, Bowie switched stage personas as regularly as he juggled musical styles with songs that shifted from glam rock to Philly-style soul to ambient European expression to Nile Rodgers-produced pop.
“First off, playing Bowie tunes gives me an excuse to play guitar because I love Mick Ronson (the guitarist on Bowie’s landmark albums from the early ’70s). Nobody explored music in different ways more successfully than Bowie did within the rock format. (Led) Zeppelin was a huge thing for me, but they did what they did. So did the (Rolling) Stones, and so on. But Bowie was able to wear so many different hats. Going out to play those songs is sort of a selfish thing for me, really. But I also get to hang out with my old bandmates.”
In addition to Cosenza, who will add percussion to the Bowie tribute, Chico Fellini will enlist guitarist Marty Charters (from Joslyn and the Sweet Compression), vocalist John Ferguson (Big Fresh), keyboardist Lee Carroll (C the Beat, among many other projects) and vocalist Erin O’Donnell Reynolds (Oh My Me) as guest performers this weekend.
“It a pretty wild little crew,” Lundy said.
A footnote to Chico Fellini’s tribute show: 2018 turned out to be a banner year for Bowie concert recordings with the release of four archival, double CD sets.
The “newest,” issued at the end of November, is “Glastonbury 2000,” a sublime sounding chronicle of Bowie’s headlining set at England’s famed Glastonbury Festival. A career retrospective of hits and comparative obscurities cut with what would largely serve as his final touring band, the set relishes in the guitar-driven groove of 1976’s “Stay,” the lounge/soul mash-up within 1983’s “Let’s Dance” and 1997’s techno-turned-power chord rocker “Little Wonder.”
Distinguished by an obvious sense of vocal glee, “Glastonbury 2000” is an exquisite living snapshot of the chameleonic Bowie as his performance career headed for home.