The Roxy Music warbler
sounds great, but disregards most of the band’s early repertoire at the Fox
Theater on October 14.
By JUD COST
Transcription of a fictional press conference immediately
following the Bryan Ferry show at Oakland’s
Fox Theater on October 14, 2011.
Ferry, Jud Cost of BLURT magazine, here. I seem to recall there were some
pretty decent early albums by Roxy Music whose material was all but ignored
tonight. By name: Roxy Music, For Your Pleasure, Stranded, Country Life and Siren. Any reason you didn’t play
these essential songs from those albums?: “Remake/Remodel,”
“Virginia Plain,” “Do The Strand,” “Street Life,”
“A Song For Europe,” “Mother Of Pearl,” “The Thrill Of
It All,” “Out Of The Blue,” “All I Want Is You,” and
“Both Ends Burning.” Most of
tonight’s set list was apparently derived from Roxy Music’s final album, Avalon from 1982, along with your recent
solo release Olympia (Virgin).
We emphasize, this press conference did not take place. But
the telling opening question was left hanging in the air long after the last
notes from Ferry’s two-hour concert had decayed, and the employees began
sweeping up the debris left behind.
It’s not that Friday night’s show was a travesty. Ferry, now
66, was in fine voice and brought along an excellent backing band. A guitarist,
fully capable of duplicating Phil Manzanera’s original fretboard flourishes,
was joined by a pair of keyboard whizzes
who could have added any vintage synth and piano parts, even replicating Brian
Eno’s electronic smears when called for. The beautifully coiffed girl who
noodled on tenor and alto saxes (a white plastic model a la Ornette Coleman)
was no Andy McKay, but she sounded all right. Her soprano sax squawks were
close enough to McKay’s oboe to do the job. They hired a pair of female
background singers tonight and even re-enlisted original Roxy Music drummer
Paul Thompson. A few song endings were a bit ragged, but things got better as
the evening progressed.
The few great early songs they did play – “Editions Of
You,” “Love Is The Drug” and “Casanova” (“Now
you’re flirting with heroin or is it cocaine?”) – sounded terrific. It’s
just that most of them, along with stirring versions of John Lennon’s
“Jealous Guy” and Canned Heat’s “Let’s Work Together,” were
lumped into the lengthy encore, more than 100 minutes down the road.
Taken individually, the softer, more AOR songs from the Avalon period sounded fine. It’s just
that there were too many of them. And bombast was sometimes substituted for
musical passion tonight. A fate similar to most of Ferry’s blood-boiling Roxy
classics befell his early solo work, as well. Groundbreaking covers of “A
Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall,” “Don’t Worry Baby,” “Smoke Gets In
Your Eyes” and “These Foolish Things” did not make the cut. And
it wasn’t as if Roxy Music, in its heyday, had played a large number of
concerts in Northern California, so longtime
fans had plenty of chances to soak up their adored repertoire. The only time
Roxy Music made the scene here during their halcyon days was a solitary show at
Paramount Theatre, just two blocks away from the Fox, in February of 1976.
By the time the last great Roxy Music album, Siren, came out in 1975, punk-rock’s
midnight bullet-train was only a year away from changing everything. Major crop
rotation was on the horizon. A hard rain would begin to fall on glam and
prog-rock, and Roxy Music suffered the same fate as every ultra-hip musical act
before it: It had outlived its time.
The stage presentation tonight was impeccable. After a
projected image of a vintage lightbulb expanded to the breaking point, Ferry
strolled out to an overpowering ovation, dressed in a smart, dark-colored
business suit. Those glam-era, quasi-Star
Trek jumpsuits never sat well on the man. After all, this is Bryan Ferry,
the rock star with the Dirk Bogarde-like good looks, the closest we’ll ever
come to seeing James Bond in person.
Ferry was at times engulfed by an inspired background that
constantly shifted from avant garde cartoons of harlequins and newsreels of
South Pacific atolls engulfed in flames to vintage ballet film and real-time,
black and white images of the players projected onto the background after first
being stretched and dyed.
As for Ferry’s unique set of pipes, we’re talking about one
of the most distinctive singing voices of the 20th century: a wispy tenor that
borders on falsetto with just enough dry martini-soaked vibrato to make it an
addictive substance. The classic early Roxy LPs featured haute couture models, usually reclining in various stages of
undress. Two ladies performing interpretive modern dance routines to the music
at the back of the stage achieved the same effect briefly during the encore by
flanking Ferry and doing an updated version of go-go dancers in a cage from 45
The bottom line for Bryan Ferry tonight is that it was a
fine night, indeed, but with more judicious programming it could have been
unforgettable. I was really looking forward to bellowing out “CPL
593H,” the magical refrain from “Remake/Remodel,” at the top of
my lungs. I’d even written the number down on my palm just to get it right.
It’s a song about a futuristic love doll that might have been used in the
soundtrack to Ridley Scott’s 1982 film Blade
Runner. “CPL 593H,” it turns out, was the license-plate number of
a car Ferry noticed, driven by a beautiful girl. Unfortunately, he also forgot
a few more important numbers tonight.