David Bowie day extra special for Sons of the Silent Age

SHARE David Bowie day extra special for Sons of the Silent Age

ABOVE: Chris Connelly (Ministry, Revolting Cocks) is among the members of Sons of the Silent Age, formed in 2012 as a David Bowie tribute band. | PHOTO BY PAUL ELLEDGE

BY SELENA FRAGASSI | FOR SUN-TIMES MEDIA

When Sons of the Silent Age formed in late 2012, they probably didn’t foresee playing an actual David Bowie Day a few years later, the official Sept. 23 holiday to celebrate the opening of the “David Bowie Is” exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Yet timing has always been on the side of the nine-member tribute band, started by local talents Chris Connelly (Ministry, Revolting Cocks) and Matt Walker (Smashing Pumpkins, Morrissey), with veterans from bands like The Chamber Strings and Dovetail Joint. When the group debuted in January 2013 for a benefit show at Metro, it was the very same week Bowie released his firstnew single in 10 years, on his 66th birthday.

“It’s just so weird how it all came together,” recalls Connelly of the band’s fortuitous formation, one of the only remaining ways to see Bowie’s music performed live since he gave up touring in the early 2000s.

Connelly and Walker had done the covers thing before. “We had a Gary Numan tribute for one night only back in 1995 at the Double Door,” he jokes, but the idea of a Bowie act was something the two super fans had long kicked around, a seemingly natural fit for Connelly whose soulful croon on various solo albums had often been compared to the glam-rock icon.

“I’ve listened to Bowie longer than any other singer, we’re talking 40 years now, so I’m very intimate with his catalog,” Connelly admits. Growing up in Scotland, he couldn’t really avoid him as a child. “The first time I saw Bowie was when I was about 7 and he was playing ‘Starman’ on ‘Top of the Pops.’ He had the dyed orange feather cut and was wearing outlandish clothes unlike anyone I’d ever seen, and I was instantly connected to the music.” With his Christmas gift money, Connelly bought his first record, the “Golden Years” single and “played the grooves out if it.”

Loving someone’s music and performing it yourself, though, are two very different things, as Connelly has discovered in the Sons of the Silent Age journey.

“I never realized how technical of a singer Bowie was until we started this group,” he admits, noting a newfound appreciation for the complexity of songs like “Station to Station” and “Ashes to Ashes.”

Since their debut, Sons of the Silent Age has fine-tuned a number of songs from Bowie’s massive catalog; they’re now up through the mid-’80s with selections from albums like “Tonight,” “Absolute Beginners” and “Let’s Dance,” and there are future ideas to do albums in full or focus on off-the-cuff numbers like Bowie’s instrumental body of work.

“He invented a lot of possibilities for us,” says Connelly who also tries to take cues from the number of times he’s seen Bowie live to enhance the physicality of the performance.

“Bowie was trained in mime before he ever became a rock star, so a lot of his show is like acting, and although I’ve never done that before, I’ve started to allow myself to become this character.”

Lately, he has been studying the New York City Ballet Exercise Journal to help with poses and movement on stage as well as briefing the pages of the “David Bowie Is” tour book to get ideas for his many costume changes during a Sons of the Silent Age set.

“His clothes were so beautifully conceived by all these incredible designers. I don’t really have that, so it’s thrift stores for me.”

Although Bowie and his wife Iman have Tweeted cryptic messages about upcoming Chicago activities, there’s no word if the pair will in fact show up on David Bowie Day. But if they do, Connelly says the band is ready when they take the stage at Daley Plaza for a set presented by WXRT and the MCA.

“We tried to pick a set we think even he would be excited to hear.”

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