PortBowie. Photo by Damon H. Loucks

Local singer Mat Zaro likely loves David Bowie as much as I do, and on Friday night, he and his band PortBowie will be playing two Bowie albums in their entirety – 1970’s “The Man Who Sold the World” and 1971’s “Hunky Dory.”

I’ve been to a PortBowie show before and can vouch for it being spectacular, even for this hardcore, fussy fan. I’ll be in New York City seeing Brandi Carlile when this one’s happening, but as luck or perhaps fate would have it, a brand new David Bowie pop-up exhibit just opened there, and I’ll be first in line on Saturday morning. But if you’re in town and even a casual Bowie fan, you don’t want to miss this show at Portland House of Music.

I’ll be honest, I’m still not over the fact that Bowie died. I still don’t like to talk about it, but I’ll never forget that Monday morning phone call from a friend sharing the news. And I’ll never forget the three times that I was lucky enough to see Bowie perform live. I’ve got a Bowie vanity plate, two Bowie tattoos, Bowie earrings, a Bowie wallet and about five T-shirts. Not to mention a ridiculous vinyl, CD, book and pin collection. I’m even wearing my Bowie trucker cap right now for good measure. But most of my love for Bowie lives in my heart through his music, especially that “Hunky Dory” album.

The album’s best known song, “Changes,” is actually my least favorite track, but on a whole, I consider it to be the rare “perfect” album.

“Oh! You Pretty Things” is one of the earliest Bowie songs I came to know and love, from the compilation “Changestwo Bowie,” one of my earliest purchases on cassette way the heck back when.

“Oh you pretty things, don’t know you’re driving your mamas and papas insane,” declares Bowie (and I managed to do just that on many occasions).

Then there’s the album’s northern star, “Life on Mars?” It’s been described by many as a masterpiece, and I agree. With piano, strings and Bowie’s dramatic and cinematic lyrics, “Life on Mars?” is peak Ziggy Stardust-era Bowie. His vocals soar and the emotion is palpable.

The song “Quicksand” is on my short list of all time favorites by anyone. I’m listening to it now as I write, and its impact hasn’t lessened even after decades of obsessively absorbing the song: “I’m not a prophet or a stone-age man / Just a mortal with the potential of a superman / I’m living on,” sings Bowie as I cling to every note for dear life.

The song is in a three-way tie with “Andy Warhol” and “The Bewley Brothers” for Zaro as far as favorites go. Though he also told me it doesn’t seem right not to mention “Life on Mars?” and “Queen Bitch.”

David Bowie’s “Hunky Dory” and “The Man Who Sold the World” albums. Photo from the collection of Aimsel Ponti

“The Man Who Sold the World” is one of Bowie’s heaviest and perhaps least talked about albums. His third, it came out a year before “Hunky Dory” and two years before “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.” An official tour for the album didn’t happen, and there weren’t any real breakout singles. There are many who only know the Nirvana version of the title track, recorded during its MTV Unplugged in New York appearance in 1993. Even I’ll admit it took me years to fully embrace the album, until things clicked with songs like “All the Madmen” “Saviour Machine” and especially “After All.” Zaro’s favorite on it is “All the Madmen,” with “Width of a Circle” and “Saviour Machine” right up there as well.

The PortBowie’s backstory starts with Clash of the Titans, a local battle of the bands series that went on for many years at Empire with some shows at Port City Music Hall. In 2015, there was a Bowie vs. Bowie show at Port City with Ziggy Stardust Bowie against Thin White Duke Bowie, Zaro and company performing as the latter.

“We had a lot of fun at that show and talked for a while about doing it again,” he said. That time came in January 2017, a year after Bowie passed away. I was at that show. Zaro and band played Bowie’s final album “Blackstar,” as well as “Station to Station” from 1976. It was divine. Two other shows that re-created other Bowie albums happened in 2018 and 2019.

From day one, the band has been Zaro on vocals; Luc Bergeron on drums and backing vocals (he’s also co-bandleader and co-musical director); Jim Goss on keys, backing vocals and guitar; Scott Hughes on guitar; and Andrew Doody on saxophone. For this show, they’ll be joined by Jeff Beam on guitar, Dawson Hill on keys and backing vocals, and Stu Mahan on bass.

I know this show is going to be epic. I hope if you go, you’ll drop me a line and tell me all about it, you rock ‘n’ rollers. Time may change me, but it won’t change my love for David Bowie. Hats off to Zaro and his band for carrying the torch right here in Maine.

PortBowie: A Celebration of David Bowie
8 p.m. Friday. Portland House of Music, 25 Temple St., Portland, $12, 21-plus. portlandhouseofmusic.com


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