Chicago: Roxy Music returns with conservative style - Mon 30th Jul

Chicago: Roxy Music returns with conservative style
30 July 2001

From the Chicago Tribune By Greg Kot

The concept of aging gracefully eludes most rock 'n' rollers. And then there are the four senior members of the British art-rock band Roxy Music, who looked as regal as the Modern Jazz Quartet as they entertained a Chicago audience Monday at the Allstate Arena for the first time in nearly two decades.
Style has always been central to the Roxy aesthetic, and this reunion performance had it to burn.

There was guitarist Phil Manzanera and saxophonist Andy Mackay in long tuxedo coats, Bryan Ferry slipping in and out of suits as though he were modeling for Gentleman's Quarterly, and a campy quartet of fleshpot dancers to provide the appropriate ambiance—tongue-in-cheek, yet oh so watchable.

With drummer Paul Thompson anchoring the back line, only founding member Brian Eno (who has retired from touring) and his ostrich feathers were missing.

Where Eno's absence was felt most, however, was not in his sartorial splendor, but in the music. With the original five-piece lineup expanded to as many as 11 members, this was Roxy-plus, a more elegant but less pliable model than the early '70s art-rock terrorists.

Eno's synthesizer twiddling once put a warped spin on the band's music, but the reunited Roxy settled for a more orderly, less radical approach that picked up the more textured sound of its later, less daring albums.

No wonder the opening numbers, drawing heavily on the early albums, sounded so uninspired.

With the arena's unforgiving acoustics, even the typically frantic "Re-make/Re-model" was turned to mud, and the classic "Out of the Blue" limped out of the gate until Lucy Wilkins' swooping violin solo.

Then Ferry slipped on a white tux jacket and instantly was transformed into the continental rogue, so refined he could emote in French on the world-weary "Song for Europe," so decadent he could fantasize about a blow-up doll in the eerie, show-stopping "In Every Dream Home a Heartache."

By "Both Ends Burning," the sound-mix problems had been resolved and the band was in flight, Ferry flapping like a big bird of prey, swishing suggestively at the exquisitely bored go-go dancers silhouetted against the video screens.

Then the singer and the dancers slipped backstage simultaneously—a coincidence? Meanwhile, Manzanera and Chris Spedding slugged it out face to face with their guitars, a long noisy death spiral that served as a prelude for the lounge-lizard adventures to follow.

The latter part of the performance was dominated by the later-period Roxy songs: deep-chill ballads such as "Avalon," "Dance Away" and John Lennon's "Jealous Guy" that made Roxy late-blooming stars in North America.

Though not nearly as adventurous as the band's best music, these are crowd-pleasers that the band couldn't afford not to play, particularly on a tour where they're demanding $75 a ticket.

In any case, it was difficult to argue with the sonically rich performances of these tunes, augmented by the gospel-soaked voices of two backing singers.

Ferry himself was in fine voice, his tremulous baritone embracing an exacting brand of anguish: the private hell of a gigolo Romantic. He camped it up during "Editions of You," "Do the Strand" and especially "Virginia Plain," a lounge lizard confidently imitating a rock star, and sounding all the more thrilling for that cockiness.

Mackay's saxophone screamed, Manzanera's guitar howled, Thompson unleashed a wicked press roll, and Ferry smiled, unruffled, while striking poses like a mariachi dancer.

Despite a few sound glitches and the onset of some middle-age conservatism, it was great to see the old guard of the rock avant-garde in such fine form.

Too bad this reunion had to settle for hockey-arena ambiance.

Next time, the band and the fans deserve a performance like this in the friendlier acoustics of the Chicago Theatre or the Auditorium, so Roxy can really go out in style.

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