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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bowie Rocks, Babushki Shocked

The lights dimmed, the speakers rumbled with thousands of watts of building bass, and David Bowie burst onto a Moscow stage for the first time in his 25-year career with all the power and passion that has made him one of the most enduring and provocative legends of avant-garde rock.

The show, which he said would be "less theatrical" than the extravaganzas of his Ziggy Stardust days, nevertheless had the unmistakable stamp of vintage Bowie, as he powered through old classics and more mature recent tracks with consummate assurance. "Diamond Dogs" and "Aladdinsane" mixed with songs from his latest album, "Outside."

"Outside," four years in the making and improvised in the studio, is the most profound and introspective of Bowie's 30 albums. Like other concept albums of the '70s, such as Pink Floyd's "The Wall" and the Who's "Quadrophenia," "Outside" is a narrative based on the fictional diary, written by Bowie, of detective Nathan Adler, describing the hunt for a brutal serial killer who preys on young girls.

"I wanted to explore things which are outside normal existence," said Bowie, 49, on Monday. The result, showcased in the "Outside" world tour, may be out of the normal run of existence but are very much in the classic tradition of powerful, haunting lyrics and the unforgettable Bowie voice.

The only trouble was that for Russian amateurs who were expecting Bowie to launch into "Space Oddity" ("Ground control to Major Tom ...") rounded off with "Changes," the repertoire may have been a little too eclectic.

An overture, which sounded like a sample from Philip Glass' modern opera "Akhnaten," was altogether too arty, and a minimalist white-draped stage set decorated with what looked like mummified bodies was perhaps a shock to old-time Bowie fans.

But the saddest part of an otherwise excellent concert was that Bowie, like other Western artists visiting Moscow, had to suffer the inanities of the Russian promoters. This began with a Monday press conference as regimented and fascistic as roll-call at Stalag 3 and ended with the usual idiotic choice of venue.

The very formal Kremlin Palace, not the most atmospheric of venues, was particularly unsuited to Bowie's passion and presence, and the initially enthusiastic younger contingent of the audience were cowed into submission by a battalion of fierce, uniformed babushka attendants.

The front seats of the stalls were sparsely filled with dour rows of expressionless and expensively dressed New Russians, whose most spirited reaction was the occasional rattle of jewelry. The real fans, on the other hand, were packed at the back in the cheap seats, cheering, dancing and applauding wildly. One girl who made a break for the stage to hand Bowie some flowers was brutally wrestled to the ground by a knuckleheaded security guard until rescued from a half-Nelson wrestling hold by the singer himself.

Outside the concert, ticket touts also were finding Bowie was not quite to the taste of the average Russian, with tickets for this, Bowie's only Russian gig, being dumped at less than half of their face value. Two St. Petersburg concerts slated for last weekend were cancelled along with the White Nights Festival.

Though the security guards and seating arrangements may have minimalized Bowie's contact with the Russian public, he will come away from Russia with at least one musical gift: A giant, antique, three-stringed bass balalaika presented to him by the Russian David Bowie Fan Club shortly before the singer was hustled away into his suite at the Palace Hotel.