LIVE: Bryan Ferry @ Proctors, 3/30/17
Review by Greg Haymes
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
Yeah, Bryan Ferry has always had style. Serious style, looking like he just stepped onstage at the Copacabana dressed in swanky tuxedos and white dinner jackets – even back in the early Roxy Music days when his bandmates were decked out in outrageous requisite rockstar finery like faux-leopard skin and feathered boas. (Yeah, we’re looking at you, Brian Eno.)
Yet for Ferry, it’s never been a matter of style over substance… It’s about style informing substance.
And although he has recorded his own collection of Great American Songbook standards – 1999’s As Time Goes By – he’s never fallen into the abyss of the tiresome retro-cliche like Rod Stewart or – dare I say it? – Bob Dylan (who Ferry paid homage to with his 1997 Dylanesque).
For his looong overdue Greater Nippertown debut last week, the 71-year-old art-rocker-turned-crooner couldn’t have selected a better venue than Proctors, the jewel of downtown Schenectady. He stepped into the spotlight at 9pm looking fashionably casual in a black suit and white shirt unbuttoned at the neck, launching into the seductively percussive gurgle of “The Main Thing.” (As though slipping back through time, Ferry opened the evening with a track from Roxy’s final album, Avalon, and closed the night with a herky-jerky romp through the quirky “Virginia Plain” from Roxy’s self-titled 1972 album.)
Backed by a crack nine-piece band (and an exceptional display of concert lighting that was exciting without being distracting), Ferry alternated between frontman-mode and sitting at the keyboards as he wended his way through two-dozen songs, leaning a bit heavier on his Roxy catalog than his solo recordings – something of a surprise considering that he’s recorded nearly twice as many solo studio albums (15) than Roxy studio LPs (8).
Speaking of surprising song selections, he didn’t sing anything from his latest solo album, 2014’s Avonmore. Odd…
But Ferry was in fine, velvety voice. Although he didn’t have quite the range that he once had in his prime, fortunately, his excellent, soulful back-up vocalists – Fonzi Thornton and Bobbie Gordon – took over admirably for some of those high notes. Gordon was especially impressive on “Avalon” and the encore of John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy.”
Indeed, “Jealous Guy” was a perfect example of what Ferry does best – tastefully conveying a deep well of emotion without giving in to excess or taking it over the top. It’s difficult to imagine another singer portraying the heat of passion with so much cool. Even underneath a swirling disco ball…
And the band? Veteran British session axman Chris Spedding commanded a place of honor on stage, although young Jacob Quistgard did most of the six-string heavy lifting. The difference in style was most clear during their solos during the raging cover of Neil Young’s “Like a Hurricane,” when Quistgard served up sting and bite, while Spedding’s spotlight moment took a more melodic turn.
But it was Australian saxophonist (and occasional keyboardist) Jorma Chalmers who earned instrumental VIP honors, echoing the moody, full tone of Roxy’s Andy MacKay without ever succumbing to slavish imitation. Her showcase on the instrumental “Tara” never felt like a this-must-be-a-Bryan Ferry-costume-change-interlude (although, yes, he did change shirts).
The highlight of a night of highlights is hard to pin down, but my vote goes to “In Every Dream Home a Heartache,” which began as a quiet, particularly creepy, dark drone before erupting into the most wildly explosive moment of the evening midway through the song. Yeah, he’s still got the right stuff…
Bryan Ferry – he wears it well.
Opening the show was singer-songwriter-keyboardist Judith Owen, last seen in Greater Nippertown as Richard Thompson’s opening act at The Egg. Backed by a sweet little chamber quartet anchored by West Coast first-call session bassist Leland Sklar, Owen slipped though a batch of originals – from the ballad “No More Goodbyes” to the slinky, jazz-tinged “That’s Why I Love My Baby,” before wrapping it up with a dark, foreboding deconstruction of “Age of Aquarius” (from the 50-year-old rock musical “Hair”), fueled by the zooming rock cello of Gabriella Swallow.
BRYAN FERRY SET LIST
The Main Thing
Slave to Love
Out of the Blue
A Waste Land
Stronger Through the Years
Like a Hurricane (Neil Young)
Take a Chance With Me
In Every Dream Home a Heartache
If There Is Something
More Than This
Love Is the Drug
Let’s Stick Together (Wilbert Harrison)
Jealous Guy (John Lennon)
Editions of You
GO HERE to see more of Andrzej Pilarczyk’s photographs of the show…
Michael Hochanadel’s review at The Daily Gazette
Shawn Stone’s review at The Alt
Excerpt from Jim Shahen Jr.’s review at The Times Union: “Bryan Ferry’s performance at Proctors Thursday night sort of mirrored his body of work, both as a solo artist and as the frontman of seminal act Roxy Music. Roxy Music started in the early ’70s as a pre-punk glam-inspired rock outfit before evolving into a cool, synth-driven mid-tempo elegance that carried over into Ferry’s 30-plus year solo career. Conversely, Ferry’s first Capital Region performance was a reverse of that career arc, leading with the restrained tastefulness of latter-day Roxy Music and his solo work, then building to a still-tasteful, but more fun and lively rocking finale.”