(August 2, 2019). Chicagoans were treated to a large dose of Roxy Music last night, by way of iconic founder and former lead singer Bryan Ferry’s sold-out concert here at the Chicago Theatre.
The newly inducted Rock and Roll Hall of Famer delivered the goods for nearly two hours and 23 non-stop songs that were a mix of Roxy Music classics and his own solo material.
The Chicago show was the first stop in America as part of a world tour that Ferry and his very talented bandmates launched earlier this year. In the wake of his and Roxy Music’s Hall of Fame induction in March, it was announced that the tour would include dates in North America, making 2019 a very good year for fans of the legend who hadn’t toured here since 2017.
Ferry, the well-dressed patriarch of British punk, was languid and smooth. His style was undeniably cool and chic, both with his vocals and his trademark dance moves – like that hunched back shuffle and hip-shimmy that he does so well, even at 73 years young.
The glam rocker performed songs spanning his and his former band’s entire repertoire, even though the tour was originally billed as being a tribute to Roxy Music’s last album, 1982’s Avalon – their only certified platinum release here in the states – and Ferry’s most recent solo album, last year’s Bitter-Sweet.
Ferry’s voice was elegant, even if it was at times fragile in its light falsetto register. The distinctive singer performed nearly all the songs in lower keys than the originals, which added to their already dark natures and themes.
It was perhaps those themes that prevented Ferry (or Roxy Music for that matter) from being pop chart mainstays here in the states – although they had many top-ten hits in the U.K back in the day. Still there were a few big hits on this side of the pond, all of which were included Thursday night, like the band’s only top-40 single, 1975’s “Love Is The Drug,” or Ferry’s top-30 dance and adult contemporary hit, “Don’t Stop The Dance.”
But the standout moments were the non-US chart hits.
On the sublime “In Every Dream Home A Heartache,” Ferry delivered in nearly the same cadence as the 1973 Roxy Music original his lightly scathing monologue about the emptiness of being affluent. The classic two-part song (one part slow and plodding, the other harder rock), which is considered one of Roxy’s greatest, also doubles as a love song to a blow-up doll – of all things – with the kind of sophistication in its lyrics that makes the unavoidable visual somehow more palatable when Ferry delivers it.
There were also crowd pleasers like 1979’s calypso-styled “Dance Away,” performed with two large disco balls flanking the stage. As “Dance” played, many members of the audience invited themselves to do just that as they stood and swayed at their seats to the song’s relatively (by Ferry’s standards) upbeat melody and message.
A song that was added to the Chicago set (but not included on shows in other recent cities) was “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,” on which Ferry showed off another of his many talents – as harmonica player.
Speaking of talents, perhaps none were more on display and none were more striking – both in appearance and in performance – than multi-instrumentalist Jorja Chalmers, a member of Ferry’s backing band clad in a black body suit who was often showcased alternating between saxophone, clarinet and keyboard – in the same songs – with the ease that one would alternate between different courses of a four-course meal.
Also noteworthy were backup singers Fonzi Thornton, of Chic fame, and Tawatha Agee, lead singer on Mtume’s 1983 soul smash “Juicy Fruit,” and backup to many R&B legends including Aretha Franklin, Luther Vandross and Stephanie Mills. Agee showed off her considerable vocal acrobatics on “Avalon,” where she held one note in soprano long enough to get many audience members to stand at attention as the song was finishing.
The show ended with three important songs in Ferry’s catalogue. First was “Virginia Plain,” the upbeat rocker that was Roxy Music’s first big hit (#4 in the UK in 1972, and a hit again in 1977). That was followed by a cover of John Lennon’s classic ballad “Jealous Guy,” which became the group’s only No. 1 UK single shortly after Lennon died in late 1980.
The capper was “Let’s Stick Together,” Ferry’s cover of the old Wilbert Harrison tune which was a big solo hit for Ferry in 1976, after he’d taken a hiatus from Roxy Music.
True to form, Ferry didn’t have much to say to the audience during the show, taking time only to introduce his backing band members and backup singers, and nothing else. A moment of humanness occurred near the show’s beginning, though, when the singer appeared to walk off stage during “The Main Thing” to fix his ear monitor, while the band still played. Like a seasoned professional and with all his coolness, he returned to continue the song, undaunted by the triviality of the technical malfunction.
All in all, the Chicago show was at times dark and sinister, at others strange yet compelling. But it was always interesting and thoroughly satisfying.
And who could expect anything less from the legendary Bryan Ferry?
Bryan Ferry’s set list at the Chicago Theater on August 1, 2019:
- The Main Thing (Roxy Music)
- The Space Between (Roxy Music)
- The 39 Steps
- Out of the Blue (Roxy Music)
- Slave To Love
- Don’t Stop The Dance
- Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues
- Boys and Girls
- Oh Yeah (Roxy Music)
- My Only Love (Roxy Music)
- Take A Chance With Me (Roxy Music)
- To Turn You On (Roxy Music)
- In Every Dream Home A Heartache (Roxy Music)
- Can’t Let Go
- If There Is Something (Roxy Music)
- Dance Away (Roxy Music)
- More Than This (Roxy Music)
- Avalon (Roxy Music)
- Love Is The Drug (Roxy Music)
- Virginia Plain (Roxy Music)
- Jealous Guy (John Lennon)
- Let’s Stick Together (Wilbert Harrison)
DJRob is a freelance blogger who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff! You can follow him on Twitter @djrobblog.
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