David Bowie tribute Starman to perform at Jazz Cafe in Plains Township
A Pittsburgh-based tribute to the music of David Bowie is turning heads on the club and theater circuit, and, backed by a famed promoter who has a long history and stellar reputation in the music industry, the act is headed for Northeastern Pennsylvania.
Starman — The Ultimate Bowie Experience will perform at 9 p.m. Saturday at the River Street Jazz Cafe in Plains Township.
The band’s general manager, Rich Engler, is renowned in music promotion in Pittsburgh and across the United States — his former company, DiCesare Engler Promotions, was ranked the No. 2 production team in the country by Billboard magazine in 1978 behind only Bill Graham Presents.
And for a man who booked everyone from The Rolling Stones to Madonna and mingled with everyone in between, he’s pretty high on Starman.
In April, Engler went on Pittsburgh’s KDKA-TV to talk about when he first heard the Bowie tribute and his confidence in the outfit’s abilities.
“Their quality and their musicianship … the look, it had national quality and just needed a little polishing here and there,” Engler said of his initial thoughts.
Fronted by singer Chris Theoret, whose vocals were frequently compared to Bowie when he performed in original projects, Starman was born in the Steel City music scene when Theoret and a group of Pittsburgh-area musicians packed the city’s modestly-sized Rex Theater for a pair of shows on two separate occasions.
When the act sold out the 1,300 seat Byham Theater, Theoret’s old bandmate guitarist Jeff Yeckel was in attendance and was drawn in by the performance.
“I thought, ‘I need to be in this band,’” Yeckel said in a recent interview.
Around the same time, Engler had seen videos of Starman performances and reached out to Theoret to develop the project. Theoret, in turn, contacted Yeckel to help him put together a proper band.
“The band he had at the time, it was a very big production,” Yeckel said. “There were three guitars, two keyboards, four backup vocalists. My idea was to strip it down and have a guitar, bass, a drum and a keyboard.
“If we find stuff we can’t cover, we’ll try something else.”
Yeckel, who said he was “thrilled” to be asked to join Starman, selected “top-flight musicians” who were also Bowie fans to round out the project.
“We’ve done a handful of shows, and every one has been really well received,” Yeckel said. “It’s due to the strength of the musicians and our song selection, and it comes down to our singer. He sounds so much like (Bowie). No one comes close to this guy.
“With songs like “Life on Mars” or “Lady Stardust” with big, soaring, sweeping vocals, they’ll give you chills. He nails everything.”
Starman, Yeckel said, currently performs two sets. The first, during which Theoret takes the stage in “glam-era” Bowie regalia, covers the entirety of Bowie’s breakout album, “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.” During the second set, Theoret emerges as the more debonair Thin White Duke.
“Then we basically give you the hits,” Yeckel said. “‘China Girl,’ ‘Let’s Dance,’ ‘Station to Station,’ ‘Changes,’ ‘All the Young Dudes,’ ‘Space Oddity,’ ‘Ashes to Ashes,’ all those kind of hits.”
The weight of performing Bowie’s music in front of adoring fans is not lost on Yeckel.
“You almost feel a responsibility for how important he really was for so many people and music in general,” he said. “That is what we’re trying to do, for people who never got to see him or did see him and miss him so much, trying to give them the most authentic version they can see.”
Yeckel said working with Engler, whom he called “literally a legend,” is a privilege for the band.
Engler, in his KDKA interview, gave that appreciation back to the ensemble.
“David (Bowie) was a friend of mine, and he would be happy to know this was happening,” Engler said. “He’d be giving these guys a pat on the back.”
For Starman, Yeckel said, the goal is to respect Bowie as a phenomenon and a groundbreaking artist.
“I wouldn’t want to be in any other kind of tribute band,” Yeckel said. “The music is so varied and often complex. An artist like David Bowie deserves the utmost treatment.”
Reach Matt Mattei at 570-991-6651 or on Twitter @TimesLeaderMatt.
IF YOU GO
What: Starman — The Ultimate Bowie Experience
Where: River Street Jazz Cafe, 667 N. River Street, Plains Township
When: 9 p.m. Saturday
Additional information: Tickets cost $10 in advance and $12 at the door the evening of the event and are available online at bit.ly/2yBO5SD. For more information, call 570-822-2992.