|Roxy Music returns with conservative style
he concept of aging gracefully eludes most rock 'n' rollers. And then there are the four senior members of the British art-rock band Roxy Music, who looked as regal as the Modern Jazz Quartet as they entertained a Chicago audience Monday at the Allstate Arena for the first time in nearly two decades. Style has always been central to the Roxy aesthetic, and this reunion performance had it to burn.
There was guitarist Phil Manzanera and saxophonist Andy Mackay in long tuxedo coats, Bryan Ferry slipping in and out of suits as though he were modeling for Gentleman's Quarterly, and a campy quartet of fleshpot dancers to provide the appropriate ambiance - tongue-in-cheek, yet oh so watchable.
With drummer Paul Thompson anchoring the back line, only founding member Brian Eno (who has retired from touring) and his ostrich feathers were missing.
Where Eno's absence was felt most, however, was not in his sartorial splendor, but in the music. With the original five-piece lineup expanded to as many as 11 members, this was Roxy-plus, a more elegant but less pliable model than the early '70s art-rock terrorists.
Eno's synthesizer twiddling once put a warped spin on the band's music, but the reunited Roxy settled for a more orderly, less radical approach that picked up the more textured sound of its later, less daring albums.
No wonder the opening numbers, drawing heavily on the early albums, sounded so uninspired.
With the arena's unforgiving acoustics, even the typically frantic "Re-make/Re-model" was turned to mud, and the classic "Out of the Blue" limped out of the gate until Lucy Wilkins' swooping violin solo.Then Ferry
slipped on a white tux jacket and instantly was transformed into the
continental rogue, so refined he could emote in French on the
world-weary "Song for Europe," so decadent he could fantasize about
a blow-up doll in the eerie, show-stopping "In Every Dream Home a
By "Both Ends Burning," the sound-mix problems had been
resolved and the band was in flight, Ferry flapping like a big bird
of prey, swishing suggestively at the exquisitely bored go-go
dancers silhouetted against the video screens.
Then the singer and the dancers slipped backstage simultaneously--a coincidence? Meanwhile, Manzanera and Chris Spedding slugged it out face to face with their guitars, a long noisy death spiral that served as a prelude for the lounge-lizard adventures to follow.
The latter part of the performance was dominated by the later-period Roxy songs: deep-chill ballads such as "Avalon," "Dance Away" and John Lennon's "Jealous Guy" that made Roxy late-blooming stars in North America.
Though not nearly as adventurous as the band's best music, these are crowd-pleasers that the band couldn't afford not to play, particularly on a tour where they're demanding $75 a ticket.
In any case, it was difficult to argue with the sonically rich performances of these tunes, augmented by the gospel-soaked voices of two backing singers.
Ferry himself was in fine voice, his tremulous baritone embracing an exacting brand of anguish: the private hell of a gigolo Romantic. He camped it up during "Editions of You," "Do the Strand" and especially "Virginia Plain," a lounge lizard confidently imitating a rock star, and sounding all the more thrilling for that cockiness.
Mackay's saxophone screamed, Manzanera's guitar howled, Thompson unleashed a wicked press roll, and Ferry smiled, unruffled, while striking poses like a mariachi dancer.
Despite a few sound glitches and the onset of some middle-age conservatism, it was great to see the old guard of the rock avant-garde in such fine form.
Too bad this reunion had to settle for hockey-arena ambiance.
Next time, the band and the fans deserve a performance like this in the friendlier acoustics of the Chicago Theatre or the Auditorium, so Roxy can really go out in style.
Greg Kot, Chicago Tribune
here's a band playing on the radio, with a rhythm of grinding guitars." Those words from "Oh Yeah," one of several standout moments Monday night at the Allstate Arena, hinted at one of the main reasons that reunited English art-rockers Roxy Music were so thrilling: the scorching guitar solos of Phil Manzanera.
Donning three suits over the course of the evening, Bryan Ferry remains one of the most stylish and distinctive vocalists in the history of rock. At 55, he has aged far better than Mick Jagger, Roger Daltrey and other '70s icons, partly because he adopted the persona of a jaded European sophisticate back when he was still in his early 20s and partly because he has never stopped challenging himself artistically.
But the magic of Roxy Music was in hearing Ferry flanked by Manzanera, who deserves a place in the pantheon of guitar heroes right beside Pink Floyd's David Gilmour, and woodwinds player Andy Mackay, an incredibly versatile musician who underscored the band's many gorgeous melodies. Hard-hitting drummer Paul Thompson, another original member, was no slouch, either.
Can a rock band claim to be anything but a nostalgia act when the "newest" song that it played during a 16-tune set was 19 years old, and the oldest dated from 1972? Heck, no. But there are credible, exciting nostalgia acts and ones that are only going through the motions for the moolah. Roxy Music delivered the goods, emphasizing why it has influenced countless bands that followed, and doing justice to one of the most innovative catalogs in rock.
With seven talented backing musicians joining the four founders, the set touched on every era of the group's initial 10-year career: the gonzo glam/art-rock of the early albums with Brian Eno ("Re-make/Re-model," "Ladytron," "In Every Dream Home a Heartache"), the signature hits of the mid-period ("Love Is the Drug," "Out of the Blue") and the lulling, proto-new age music of the later days ("Avalon," "Jealous Guy").
The band was surprisingly ragged at times, especially on the more sedate material. But in an era when too many veteran acts present their songs as pristine museum pieces, this was actually an asset: Roxy was definitely live, not Memorex.
The element of chaos that Eno added with his synthesizers and tape loops was missed on the skewed rockers, but in its stead, the band showed that it has perfected the slow, dramatic crescendo, a uniquely Roxy style of "jamming" that was beautiful, focused, distinctly English and nearly orchestral in its grandeur.
Aside from the lack of new material, the primary problem with an otherwise grand evening was the fault of promoter Clear Channel Entertainment. The sound was positively atrocious for the first four or five songs, and it was depressing to see these legends performing for a house that was only two-thirds full, especially when the size of the Allstate Arena had already been cut down by moving the stage forward.
The band belonged at the Auditorium, Rosemont or Chicago theaters, in a stylish, comfortable and acoustically superior setting, instead of a vast, impersonal, echo-plagued arena. But during the concert industry's summer of greed, simple factors like good sound and pleasant surroundings for the fans don't seem to matter all that much.
Jim DeRogatis, pop music critic
eunions after two decades usually mean a roomful of beer guts and bald spots. Both were appropriately sighted onstage and off at Roxy Music's first Chicago show in 18-years - but this time, they were the only two things worse for wear.
The band blasted through its first song ("Re-make/Re-model") at full tilt Monday at the Allstate Arena. The British art rock band of the '70s, Roxy Music's regrouping is about unabashed nostalgia since the band has no concrete plans to write new music after this current tour touting its back catalog.
Staying away so long helped the collection of jazz pop classics sound fresh and apparently inspired its founding members - guitarist Phil Manzanera, sax and oboe player Andy Mackay and singer Bryan Ferry - to jumpkick their playing.
At 55, Ferry snaked around stage in a leather suit, later replaced by silver sequins an hour later. Even though a lyric stand was never far from his eyes, he managed to maintain his disco charm during the glam strutting "Street Life" and, much later, cooing the French lyrics of the exotic vamp, "A Song For Europe."
The three founding members were part of a 10-member band, which lit up each song with heavy power.
Manzanera peaked "Ladytron" with scratchy yelps of feedback while Mackay burrowed deep with sax fills.
Despite, or perhaps because of the band's classy nightclub style, go-go girls were enlisted, first a foursome of platinum blondes for the fiery "Both Ends Burning," and later feather-topped Vegas beauties for "For Your Pleasure."
One omission was the classic "More Than This," the only thing exiting fans might have asked wanting more.
Mark Guarino, Daily Herald