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Review: CSO Presents: Symphonic Oddity

Decked out in white, including a white puffer vest, his head tilted to the heavens and his untamed 'fro giving the appearance of a helmet, Laughton Kora looks every bit the astronaut as the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra’s chief conductor Benjamin Northey deftly introduces the opening strains of David Bowie’s legendary ‘Space Oddity’. It’s a full house at Horncastle Arena, and if it wasn’t for the building Orchestra you’d be able to hear the obligatory pin drop – I’m hit by a wave of frisson as goosebumps erupt along my arms.

It’s a genius concept: some of New Zealand’s favourite musicians performing some of the world’s best loved rock and pop songs, all accompanied by the city’s beloved Orchestra and a grunty rock band, and the perfect homage to the genius of Bowie. The anticipation is palpable.

Fittingly, there’s a lot of love (and respect) on the stage with Shihad’s Jon Toogood, a spangly-pantsuit-wearing Fur Patrol’s Julia Deans, Anna Coddington rocking a cream suit and Kora fronting the band, and even the Orchestra is complete with lightning bolt tributes slashed across several faces.

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The musicians take turn-about performing from a programme spanning a decades-spanning epic back catalogue of hits, along with a few wild cards. The first half sees Toogood firing off a crowd-pleasing double act of ‘Rebel Rebel’ and ‘The Jean Genie’, channelling some serious Bowie funk, and a stunning duet with Deans on ‘Ziggy Stardust’, with Deans also turning out one of the night’s highlights ‘Life on Mars’. Kora hits ‘Diamond Dogs’ out the park (along with ‘China Girl’) and Coddington raises the roof with ‘Fame’.

By the third song in the second half, with Deans and Kora belting out a beautifully accompanied ‘Absolute Beginners’, a normally reserved Christchurch tires of dancing in their chairs and, aided by Toogood, commence dancing in the aisles and up front in a celebration of unbridled Bowie-fuelled joy.

The party is kept going with the sing-a-long infection of ‘Golden Years’, ‘Changes’, ‘Young Americans’, ‘Let’s Dance’, ‘Fashion’ and ‘Ashes to Ashes’ before we rightfully return to the heavens with Toogood paying mad respect with a haunting version of Bowie’s posthumous hit ‘Lazarus’.

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