MUSIC PREVIEW: Bowie on the brain

David Bowie GigCity EdmontonChances are that David Bowie will be on the minds of many musicians performing in Edmonton this weekend. Could hear a favourite song or two.

In fact, it would be entirely OK if we gave it all over for one giant festival of tribute bands dedicated to the one great artist who inspired so many. Maybe just for this one weekend. Everyone cool with that?

Bowie died of cancer on Jan. 10 at age of 69, leaving behind an incredible body of work that smashed both genre and gender, in the process popularizing a whole new thing called “glam rock.” Even manly men were given permission to fly their freak flags, from time to time. Bowie also managed to heighten the art of pop songwriting, and show how it’s possible to reinvent yourself regularly and still remain relevant, distinctive and original, leading the trends instead of following them.

His big secret? Serving the songs first. Pretty simple, really. Bowie’s music, unlike lesser hits of today, will live long after all of us are gone. He left us with a new album, Blackstar, which looks like it will be a No. 1 debut – something Bowie never scored when he was alive. Ironic, isn’t it?

Participants of the Cross Cancer Institute benefit at the Empress Ale House Saturday afternoon need little convincing to pay tribute to the icon whose death many grieve as the passing of a loved one. Performers include Wilf Kozub – from the 1980s Canadian breakout success Wilfred N. And the Grown Men – who will sing Kooks, an album track from Hunky Dory (1971).

“I used to sing it around the house to my children when they were little,” Kozub says, “and they grew up to be big David Bowie fans.” Makes sense. Wilf is the father of Nik Kozub of Shout Out Out Out fame, who like his father taps the “dark” side of the force. That’s way cooler.

Also on stage for this free show will be Joe Nolan, Tanyss Nixi, Marlaena Moore, Jesse Northey, Bramwell Park and quite likely more in a show expected to run past the usual two Saturday afternoon hours. Donations will be accepted, all proceeds to the Cross Cancer Institute.

Don’t be surprised if a little Bowie creeps into the rest of the shows this weekend. If the acts haven’t picked their covers yet, suitable song suggestions have been included in the following round-up, as a public service:

Thursday 14

Rufus Wainwright – The world of music is filled with gifted kids of famous fathers – kind of like Star Wars – and among many scions this artist has managed to overcome the long shadows of his folk-famous parents Loudon Wainwright III and the late Kate McGarrigle. How? By singing opera, among other things. It’s a brave man who dares to do it solo, with only his own piano accompaniment. Literally anything can happen – perhaps a lovely version of Changes. With Colleen Brown, Myer Horowitz Theatre, 8 pm, $49.50 advance

Friday 15

Fred Penner – At some point in his illustrious legacy of being a children’s entertainer, this guy must’ve cracked – “Enough milk and cookies, please! I wanna sing for grown-ups!” So he did, performing in bars for the first time in 2008 only to discover that a lot of his kiddie fans back then are now of drinking age – and still love to hear The Cat Came Back! His latest album is Where in the World, which won a Juno for children’s album. Penner would sound good singing Space Oddity. Ground control to Major Fred! The Buckingham, with The Willy Nillies and Rusty, 8 pm, SOLD OUT

Saturday 16

Smokey Robinson – Let us not forget the great Natalie Cole, who died on New Year’s Eve – and what a sad few weeks this has been. This gifted daughter of a famous father was a dear friend of this legend of R&B, who will perform at the River Cree Casino. With so many Natalie Cole songs to choose from, which will Smokey do? How about Miss You Like Crazy. 9 pm, $70 advance

Vance Joy – The Folkish Invasion has produced a infestation of banjos, mandolins, and funny random drums in popular music, but it has also ushered in some stunning new artists– like this Australian bloke. From humble roots on his trusty ukulele, his 2013 debut album Dream Your Life Away blew up worldwide on the backs of such winsome songs as Riptide and Mess is Mine, along with a new single called Fire and the Flood; he played the main stage at the Edmonton folk fest in 2014; and here he is at the Jubilee Auditorium. Give this guy Under Pressure. With Reuben and the Dark, 8 pm, from $39.50 advance

Thompson Highway/The Gibson Block – Here we have a rare opportunity to see “bands named for map locations” on the same bill at Filthy McNasty’s. We need a few more and we could have a geo-palooza! Both of these local bands are seasoned purveyors of sturdy roots-rocking goodness, and both would do well covering Rebel Rebel. 8 pm, $5 at the door.

Monday 18

Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats – Is it possible to become sick of a band after ONE song? Short answer, yes. See X Ambassadors. Sonic radio had a lot of fun introducing the Night Sweats’ now-massive hit S.O.B. to Edmonton audiences. Garner Andrews did a blind taste test and tried to guess what year the old-timey tent revival gospel vibe came from, noting that it must be newer because the cussing lyrics “wouldn’t have even stuck to the tape” in the old days. Is there more ribald frivolity where that came from before we get sick of what might be a great new band ruined from overexposure? Find out on this night at the Winspear Centre –where they could make a big party out of Dancing in the Street. 8 pm. SOLD OUT