Shepherd's Bush Empire (1st Night) - Fri 16th Dec

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Neil McCormick reviews Bryan Ferry at the Shepherd's Bush Empire for The Telegraph

I would love to see the audition process for Bryan Ferry’s band. There were 12 people on the crowded stage, seven of whom looked as if they could have stepped out of the pages of a ladies fashion magazine. The four backing singers were gorgeous in gold lamé dresses, there were two lithe dancers in a variety of revealing costumes, and though the accomplished horn player sounded a lot like Andy Mackay, I am not sure the Roxy Music saxophonist would have looked quite as comely in hot pants and a see-through shirt.

The five male band members were suitably dapper, even though veteran rocker Chris Spedding looks as if he may have been shoe-horned into evening dress against his will.

At the centre, Ferry himself, at 66, remained the epitome of a certain kind of timelessly coiffured and tailored style. This is not a fashion parade, however, and Ferry’s outfit could really do the business.

There was no reliance on the kind of pre-recorded pads and synth triggers that buoy up the sound of most contemporary live bands. Under Ferry’s direction, they wove, flowed and meshed together in a kind of seamless tapestry of sound that was utterly distinctive even before Ferry added his understated crooning.

For someone who has helped shaped popular music over the past 40 years, Ferry doesn’t really have a lot of crowd-pleasing hits. He did eight cover versions and delved into some obscure corners of the Roxy catalogue, including the odd, sci-fi boogie of If There is Something from their 1972 debut

On My Only Love, from Roxy’s Flesh and Blood (1980), Ferry’s delicate, sensitive piano solo gave seamlessly way to a sensational lead guitar and high-strung backing vocal. In many ways, his band did all the predictable rock things, wild solos and big drum finishes, yet somehow they never sounded like other bands; it all blended and merged into something wide and cinematic with an almost jazzy sophistication. It was quite mesmerising.

It was only at the end that Ferry came down to earth, delivering punchily direct versions of Love is the Drug, Let’s Stick Together and Jealous Guy. His audience responded in woozy, singalong fashion. It was as if we had suddenly been transported from a 21st-century space rock station to an Oasis gig.

It was interesting to see what happened to Ferry himself. An innately shy man, the surge of the crowd seemed to release him, and soon he was grinning bashfully, waving his arms like a dancing matador and blowing kisses in the air. When his scantily-clad backing dancers came front of stage to bump and grind with him, the legendary ladies’ man looked completely in his element.

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