Photos by Leif Zurmuhlen
If you’d asked me what the chances were that Bryan Ferry would ever play the Capital Region, I’d have said, “zero.” I was happily proved wrong on Thursday (March 30th), when Ferry and his amazing band knocked out a crowd in beautiful downtown Schenectady. As the Roxy Music cofounder and longtime solo act explained in a recent Alt e-mail interview with Paul Rapp, he’s been playing cities he’s never visited before on this tour. And the hardy crowd that turned out were more than appreciative.
Ferry and his nine-piece band hit the ground dancing with “The Main Thing,” from Roxy’s Avalon LP, and his solo hit “Slave To Love.” Ferry was his usual elegant self, each gesture precise, and leading the band with a cultivated reserve. To the cheers of die-hards, they didn’t waste any time diving deep into the Roxy’s art rock days with “Ladytron,” followed by such classic-era songs as “Out of the Blue” and “Beauty Queen.” There was also a solid reworking of “Stronger Through the Years,” from the oft-overlooked album Manifesto.
The band handled the widely varying material with complete mastery: young Danish guitarist Jacob Quistgard ripped out the bulk of the solos with vigor and intensity, and longtime Ferry associate Chris Spedding contributed his share (and showed off his Gibson Flying V); bassist Neil Jason and violinist Marina Moore had notable moments. But the instrumental star of the show was oboist/saxophonist Jorja Chalmers (below), who made the old Andy Mackay solo spots her own. Leave it to Bryan Ferry to find a virtuoso musician who also could have been a cover model on a 1980s Roxy album cover.
An instrumental (“Tara”), featuring a paired-down band (minus Ferry), served as the division point between the first and second half of the show. When the full crew returned to the stage, next was “In Every Dream Home a Heartache.” It’s a great portrait of postwar bourgeois ennui, presented in a not-so-plain wrapper. An aural horror story, Ferry sounded particularly malevolent singing slowly and insinuatingly over the creepy keyboards. First, the doomed wish for spiritual transcendence: “Is there a heaven?/I’d like to think so.” Next, the scene-setting, with luxury as decadence: “The cottage is pretty/the main house a palace.” Then, the monster appears, and it’s an inflatable sex doll: “I blew up your body/But you blew my mind.” Boom, the band exploded, in a flash of light, in a majestic dirge of cacophonous solos.
It brought most of theater to their feet. How did Ferry and company top that?
After the palette-cleansing “If There Is Something,” a country-flavored ditty from the first Roxy Music album which, unsurprisingly, turns dark at the end (and featured a fine solo by Spedding), there was an unbeatable sequence of songs: “More Than This” and “Avalon” from Roxy’s 1980s heyday; “Love Is the Drug” (Roxy’s belated U.S. breakthrough hit); “Virginia Plain,” one of the great debut singles of the rock era; “Let’s Stick Together” and “Jealous Guy,” representing Ferry’s legacy of smart covers; and, finally, the anthemic “Editions of You.”
Ferry is, if nothing else, a courtly traditionalist. The brief pause between “Virginia Plain” and “Together” was a nod to the less-frequent practice of encores. And there was an opening act, British singer-songwriter Judith Owen. (Maybe it’s just me jabbering, and maybe I’m just going on anecdotal evidence, but legacy acts like Ferry seem less likely to have openers now.) Her quirky, brainy, reflective songs are enhanced by her soulful voice; her band, including legendary bassist Leland Sklar, was superb.
It’s too bad so many people streamed in late. Though likely the result of fire-related downtown traffic re-routes, it was a distraction from the beginning of Owen’s short-but-sweet set.
Bryan Ferry, Proctors, Schenectady, March 30