Hammersmith Review (Melody Maker) - Sat 26th May

Hammersmith Review (Melody Maker)
26 May 1979

Editions of Roxy
By James Truman for
Melody Maker, May 26 1979

Roxy Music, Hammersmith Odeon

Ten minutes of showtime on Friday and the Broadway is still scattered with small groups of hopefuls, negotiating the price of a glimpse at the promised band and paying anything between £15 and £25 for the privilege.

But then this, in principle at least, is an Event, the conclusion of three years' anticipation and, except for the few who'd been at the Odeon on the previous two nights, the first and last opportunity of witnessing the celebrated reunion.

And here lies what seems to be the evening's major dilemma. Through the three years of silence, the memory of Roxy Music, without doubt the quintessential band of the early seventies, had become disfigured by the efforts of countless imitators and become the preserve of individual interpretation and recollection. The idea of publicly celebrating so many private memories seemed almost perverse.

Then there is the audience, which looks perverse, period. Beside the occasional bit of moth-eaten glam tattoo, it's straight ahead weekend crossover Ford Capris, beer guts and bomber jackets, the antithesis of the young exquisites who documented the early years. Had Roxy Music survived with more dignity than their fans?

Well, the curtain rises and we all rub our eyes in disbelief at the set, a monstrous construction of pyramids and papier mache that looks like an RKO reject for Antigone. We wait for Charlton Heston, but get Paul Thompson, impassively knocking out the introduction to "Manifesto."

The lights turn in on the stage and the band is unveiled. Stage left stands Mackay, dressed in grey safari suit, on his left Gary Tibbs in black leather pants and braces, to the other side of the drum rostrum, Dave Skinner, barely visible throughout, and, on the far right, Phil Manzanera, in black drape-jacket.

Manzanera hits the opening chord to "Manifesto." His guitar has slipped out of tune. Meanwhile, Bryan Ferry ambles on from the wings in a putrid, lime-green lounge suit and delivers the opening line. It's all but inaudible. The song's doomy, majestic dynamic, which always suggested it would be a killer live, is entirely lost in the pitiful trickle of sound coming from the stage. The entrance has been comprehensively blown.

Manzanera quickly changes to a Les Paul which he plays, relatively untreated, throughout the set. The band shift up a gear into the infectious pop of "Trash" but, whether through nerves or the still erratic sound levels, fail to make much of it.

"Out Of The Blue" falls equally flat, Ferry stumbling though his wardrobe of clumsy mannerisms to no avail, while the band sound plain lethargic. Without Jobson's swooping violin lines at the end, the song offers no real conclusion, suddenly stopping dead on an oboe phrase.

"A Song For Europe" and "Still Falls The Rain" follow in fairly anonymous form, before the band begin to rock, almost imperceptibly at first, through "Mother Of Pearl," one of the evening's highlights.

But it's on the two songs that follow, "Ain't That So" and "Angel Eyes," that some evidence of commitment appears. Stunning mixtures of mannerism, smooth construction and cleverly camouflaged emptiness on record, they achieve new life on stage. Understated and deliberately mellowed, they move soulfully through delicate, echoed arrangements to become the set's tour de force.

In a broader context, they underline Roxy's new approach to performing. Whereas with Eno, and to a lesser extent, Eddie Jobson, the stage offered chances for pulling the songs off into unexpected tangents, the new line-up affords the opportunity of working from within, softening the music's rigid structures and applying a new sensuality. Whether it's a case of growing old gracefully, or growing graceful boldly, it works.

"Ladytron" does little to disgrace the original and shows up Paul Thompson as the absurdly competent drummer that he is, effortlessly doubling and embroidering the rhythm while never losing track of the underlying beat. "In Every DreamHome A Heartache" suffers by comparison for the simple reason that any joke, however elegant or perceptive, loses its power when its punchline has passed into common knowledge.

Moving towards the climax, "Casanova" emerges as a jagged, stripped down adaptation of the original, while "Love Is The Drug" and "Re-make/Remod-el" are as strong as they could ever be. The two encores, "Do The Strand" and "Editions Of You," are likewise faultlessly reproduced.

And on to a tentative conclusion. The years have provided Roxy Music with a whole new set of pitfalls, some of which they still have the agility to avoid. When a style as individualised as theirs returns to imitate itself, it almost invariably comes dressed up as nostalgia. Roxy have translated the past tense into an (imperfect) present. The future remains only conditional

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