|Roxy Music re-creates golden age
Band returns to stage
with '70s-style fervor
hose reciting the lexicon of cool often say a work of art must be
timeless, or rather transcend its own time, to qualify for the
adjective "great." Every axiom has its loopholes, though: There is,
for instance, F. Scott Fitzgerald's "Great Gatsby," a novel whose
greatness rests on its time- stamped reproduction of the jazz age.
And then there is Roxy Music, a group whose greatness comes from
having so perfectly captured 1970s nouveau- nostalgia.
Singer Bryan Ferry and his band mates realized that the '70s were
as much about revisiting a past filled with starry glamour as they
were about flights of esoteric space-age fancy. Roxy Music was the
only band to draw both these currents into a unique aesthetic that
laid the groundwork for punk visuals, '80s electro-pop and every
suave male singer-songwriter who has since sashayed to fame in
Ferry's shadow (including "Young Americans"- and "Station to
Station"-era David Bowie).
It was no coincidence, then, that when Roxy Music played the
Chronicle Pavilion on Sunday as part of its first tour in 18 years,
it chose to reproduce the same glittery, golden-age stage kitsch it
used in the '70s and turn it into nostalgia twice removed. Nor was
it coincidence that the group chose the closest thing we've got to a
postmodern Cole Porter, Rufus Wainwright, as opening act.
True, the concert, which drew an enthusiastic crowd of 5,000 to a
venue with twice that capacity, would have been better suited to
Oakland's art deco Paramount Theatre, a place tailor-made for
halcyon memories and swanky, fading charms. But the pavilion's
half-empty house didn't stop the band -- Ferry and original members
Phil Manzanera (guitar), Andy Mackay (saxophone) and Paul Thompson
(drums) with seven backup performers -- or fans from partying like
flappers on the eve of Prohibition.
Roxy's 105-minute set took a linear route from the band's
earliest material to its latest, from glam rock ("Out of the Blue")
to chic experimentation ("In Every Dream Home a Heartache"), from
white-soul lounge ("Love Is the Drug") to chilly refinement
GO-GO DANCERS AND SHOWGIRLS
Even the progressively more playful cheesecake of Roxy Music's
album covers was resurrected by the appearance of go-go dancers
during "Both Ends Burning" and feathered showgirls during "Love Is
The show began tentatively, with understated versions of
"Re-Make/Re-Model" and the jazzy "Streetlife," but quickly took off
with Manzanera's jaw-dropping guitar solo at the end of "Ladytron."
From there the night was a three-ring circus starring Manzanera,
Ferry and Mackay, with the ever-dashing singer taking pains to step
back and remind the crowd that it's the music, not just Ferry's
sleek baronial looks, that have made the group an enduring cult
icon. The band's original members excelled in driving that point
home: Mackay's saxophone and other reeds on songs such as the
worldly "Song for Europe" alternated between a cool ache and sheer
sizzle; Manzanera's extraordinary solos transformed songs into
crescendoing arcs, particularly when played in conjunction with
guest guitarist Chris Spedding (another underground '70s touchstone
who has played on Ferry's solo tours).
Had original keyboardist Brian Eno been in the house -- he no
longer tours - - Ferry might have been given an even harder run for
his charismatic money. But while Eno's innovative synthesizers,
which so defined Roxy's early sound, were missed,
multi-instrumentalists Julia Thornton and Lucy Wilkins labored ably
to fill the gap. Wilkins even had her own moment of glory, with a
mesmerizing violin solo on "Out of the Blue" that earned her a
Ferry, the group's debonair linchpin, was in excellent voice,
switching between vibrato and baritone as lithely as he swapped
suits (a total of three, from black leather to white jacket to
blinding silver lame). His delivery ranged from cool and arch
phrasing on songs like "Mother of Pearl" to sweeping,
Evitaesque gestures on "Editions of You" and "Do the Strand."
Backing his artful croon were singer Sarah Brown and guest vocalist
Yannick Etienne (a veteran of several later Roxy recordings).
Performing the song "Oh Yeah," Ferry sang, in a wonder-tinged
voice, "There's a band playing on the radio/ With a rhythm of
grinding guitars." That's the real greatness of Roxy Music's complex
nostalgia: It invokes a time when rock 'n' roll still signified
excitement, much the way jazz sounded a clarion call to the hipsters
of Fitzgerald's era.
Chonin, SF Chronicle
|Roxy Music's old favorites still pack powerful
RYAN FERRY paused between songs early in
Roxy Music's set at the Chronicle Pavilion at Concord Sunday night
and made his only gaffe of the night.
He said it was "great to be in San Francisco."
Ferry's from Britain, so he can be forgiven just this
once. Maybe he didn't take a gander out the bus window on the way
Geographical confusion aside, Roxy Music was stunningly good. It
can't be easy to translate floating and sophisticated art-rock to a
live show when you haven't toured in years, but everything came
across gracefully, and at times, with uncharacteristic power.
Longtime fans will point out that the band had some pre-punk
power in the early 1970s, carving a name for itself with records
like "For Your Pleasure" and "Stranded." But the punch was
overshadowed by a glamorous, patient and gorgeous sound with some
danceability thrown in, especially in the late '70s.
The 11-member band came out blazing with "Re-Make/Re-Model" as
guitarist Phil Manzanera began convincing anyone who didn't know
better that he deserves mention as one of the great sonic
experimental guitarists. Ferry strode out dressed in leather and
worked up the crowd while Manzanera and saxophonist Andy MacKay
traded screeching high notes.
Usually when you see guys in their 50s dressed that well onstage,
they're playing stale Chicago songs. As strange as it sounds, with
the ensemble rock opening heavily laced with saxophone, Roxy Music
sounded similar to an artsy, synthed-up E Street Band -- an E Street
Band from an alternative universe, but with some of the same rock
'n' roll intentions.
That's not to say the band abandoned the quasi-disco and slow,
dramatic stuff. Quite the contrary; since Roxy Music has no new
songs, it relied on the old material and the proven danceable
But the show didn't come off like a greatest-hits tour. There was
a certain amount of nostalgia, yes, but with a high degree of
musicianship and players who feed off each other live. The delivery
had a fresh feeling.
Despite Ferry's crooning and a well-orchestrated light and video
show, Manzanera kept stealing the spotlight. Dressed in all-white
and looking like he was about to embark on a Jamaican vacation,
Manzanera straddled the line between Adrian Belew and David Gilmour,
with alternating frantic and spacey, gorgeous solos on "Ladyton" and
"A Song for Europe."
For a band that put so much production into its records, it did a
great job of building on-stage dynamics, whether it was a violin
solo building from slide guitar or Ferry playing some well-placed
electric piano or harmonica on "Both Ends Burning."
There are so many faces of Roxy Music. The band could do a sci-fi
soundtrack, play an art-school opening and hit a Studio 54 reunion
all in the same week. Every song has a definitive beginning, peak
and end. It was clear Sunday that this is how so many of the English
pop-art rock bands of the '80s should have turned out.
The difference is mostly Ferry, who, in his multiple dinner
jackets and slick hair, looked as cool and stylish as ever. His
crooning was never geared for screaming teens, so it doesn't suffer
from a lack of context three decades after the band's first record.
But Roxy Music did have hits and delivered them aptly Sunday. The
band did its only British No. 1 single, the remake of John Lennon's
"Jealous Guy," along with "More than This" and a patient and rich
version of "Avalon." "Love is the Drug" featured dancers in red
feathered Las Vegas showgirl outfits -- a nod to the gloss with
which the band painted its later singles. "Do the Strand" bookended
the show with a big number, much the way it started. There was
little talk and no mention of any new records, which was OK. The
show seemed to be enough for everyone, band included, for
TONY HICKS, Contra
|True Brit: Roxy Music satisfies the faithful
hirty-something Brit-pop fans and New Wave fanatics
circled this past week on the calendar twice in dark mascara.
The British Invasion was set to descend big time on the Bay Area.
Even though the plug was pulled on the Soft Cell and Pet Shop Boys
show, the pegged-pants nation could still look forward to smoking
cloves at the Depeche Mode and New Order gigs.
And then there was Roxy Music - a Brit-royalty band that hadn't
toured in nearly 20 years. Having disbanded in 1983 at the height of
the group's success, Roxy Music's Bryan Ferry, Andy Mackay and Phil
Manzanera unexpectedly regrouped for a North American tour.
Sunday night's highly anticipated stop at Concord's Chronicle
Pavilion was a very welcome return to form for one of the most
influential rock bands. Despite the long layoff, the group was
easily the most entertaining and appealing of the three Brit bands
that made their rounds through the amphitheaters this weekend.
Of course, the knock on this show was that Brian Eno wasn't
taking part, so it wasn't a real reunion. Whatever. With Ferry
crooning on the microphone, Mackay blowing the sax and Manzanera
strumming the guitar, we had the classic Roxy lineup that was
responsible for so many memorable dance tracks and romantic-pop
albums. Plus, the concert offered longtime Roxy drummer Paul
Thompson on sticks and skins, as well as one of the sharpest backing
bands that I have heard in some time.
Roxy Music isn't touring behind any new studio album, which meant
the musicians didn't have to force-feed any new tunes down the
throats of fans who just wanted to hear the hits. And all the big
tunes sounded good - from ``Love is the Drug" and ``Do the Strand"
to ``Jealous Guy" and ``Mother of Pearl."
At 55 years old, Ferry is still as sauve and cool as a Sean
Connery-era James Bond, moving through tracks like ``While My Heart
is Still Beating" and ``Avalon" with a type of haunting melancholy
that is all his own.
The vocalist has always been a man of great style. Dressed like
his mates in a sharp sports coat, Ferry seemed timeless and
detached, like a movie character living a brief moment in the real
Although Ferry is the undisputed frontman, Roxy Music is
definitely a full band. Mackay's horn work defines Roxy's sound on
songs like ``India" and the wonderful ``A Song for Europe."
Manzanera was playing like he had something to prove, pulling out
gigantic guitar solos and huge riffs on such tunes as ``Street
Life," from 1973's ``Stranded," and ``Both Ends Burning," from
1975's ``Siren." For those brought up on the lush, romantic torch
songs of 1982's ``Avalon" album, the sheer ferociousness of
Manzanera's playing can be startling.
Roxy Music clearly doesn't have the same draw that it once did.
This reunion show hardly set gate records. The Chronicle was maybe
half full. A tip of the hat to Ferry, Mackay, Manzanera and crew for
ignoring the empty seats and playing the house like it was a
sold-out baseball stadium.
Rufus Wainwright, son of folk music icons Loudon Wainwright III
and Kate McGarrigle, was an unusual choice to open the show.
Originally set to spend his summer touring with the Pet Shop Boys
and Soft Cell, Wainwright jumped on board the Roxy reunion run after
the ill-advised Wotapalava Festival tour was canceled.
Wainwright's latest album, ``Poses," is a joy. But the crowd
clearly wasn't in the mood for easy acoustic folk on this night.
All this crowd wanted was the chance to sail to ``Avalon" for the
first time in 18 years.
Jim Harrington, Oakland