Originally written for GetIntoThis
He may not quite have the shape-shifting capabilities of one of his late contemporaries, but Bryan Ferry has enjoyed quite the career trajectory. The son a Durham miner, Ferry was once at the forefront of avante-garde glam alongside the Bowies and Bolans – but when Roxy Music split for the second time in the early 1980s Ferry transitioned towards sophisti-pop stylings and expensive suits: pop music’s louche aristocrat.
Now an elder statesman of the rock-pop world, Ferry has become the archetype of the upmarket crooner, reeling off covers albums and fashion collections for the discerning muso-about-town. That image is confirmed by a glance at the audience in the Philharmonic, here to savour Ferry’s evocative back catalogue among the art-deco stylings. Few audiences can be as dapper as a Bryan Ferry’s.
If Bowie was a chameleon then Ferry is famously a lounge lizard. The curled lip and the quiff remain, trademarks of a look that has survived largely unchanged for the best part of half a century, are unmistakable. While he is much parodied, Ferry is still suave. He doesn’t break sweat and stays just the right side of rumpled.
If Ferry’s style has changed little, the music evolved significantly from art-glam rock to a studied, heavily produced and sumptuous sophisti-pop in the early 80s. But little changed since the middle of that decade and Ferry gradually relaxed into a warm bath of covers albums and tastefully forgettable coffee-table music; the sort of stuff you might admire but never listen to. Most of Ferry’s output since could soundtrack a noirish late-80s BBC detective drama.
Support tonight comes from former Howling Bells singer Juanita Stein, warming up the crowd with a selection of tunes that could soundtrack a David Lynch film, an impression reinforced by a backdrop of shimmering red curtains. It’s an apt opening for Ferry’s own filmic oeuvre.
But following a rapturously received opening of The Main Thing and Slave To Love the energy saps significantly. There are cherishable rarities, including Windswept, but by the time Ferry turns to his later solo material the Phil’s audience – not in the first flush of youth – are sagging.
However, almost on cue things change tack, with an exodus to the front of the auditorium indicating a switch to earlier Roxy Music material. Popular opinion has it that this is where the quality material in Ferry’s back catalogue resides, and while later albums arguably have more texture it’s the foot-stomping standards that fare better in the live environment.
Although approaching venerable age and status – Ferry is 72 – his trademark physicality, along with his looks, give the impression of a much younger man. He looks scarcely able to believe Re-Make Re-Model is over 45 years old.
One would not think it from the way he approaches the songs in the final half of the set. His voice has faded a little, but like Bowie he wears it well. It adds a little more depth to the ballads and covers and does not detract from the pacier numbers.
Still there is time for the odd detour. In Every Dream Home A Heartache remains electrifyingly creepy. Meanwhile Ferry’s own, definitive, version of Jealous Guy – complete with haunting whistling – and an ethereal rendition of Avalon are brief detours in the latter part of the set that is otherwise merciless in its tempo.
Street Life, Virginia Plain, Do The Strand and Love Is The Drug form an irresistible run-in to round off the gig. Angel Eyes and Same Old Scene – perhaps the hits that straddle the two distinct incarnations of Roxy Music more than any others – are missing, as is Dance Away. But the crowd are not disappointed.
They have come to see Bryan Ferry cast off his snoozy late-era trappings and delve into a rich back catalogue. He look energetic, happy. No lounging tonight – even if Ferry’s stage presence still exudes a certain reptilian sang-froid.