Let me just say this right off the bat: it’s not Bryan Ferry’s fault he’s old, and I am in no way insinuating he should retire. He’s made a half-dozen terrific albums since Roxy Music called it a day in the mid-eighties (their 2001 comeback doesn’t fucking count because they still haven’t fucking done anything). If anything, his most recent studio album, 2010’s ‘Olympia,’ sounds better than most of the stuff he’s put out since 1985’s seminal ‘Boys & Girls,’ and includes some very rewarding collaborations with the likes of Jonny Greenwood, Scissor Sisters and Dave Stewart. As a songwriter, he’s still at the top of his game, draping beautiful atmospheres over minimal compositions, and he still has an ear for some devilishly catchy hooks.
Now. All that said, he’s still an old fucker, and live, he just doesn’t quite sound like the Bryan Ferry anymore. His fluttering, warbling vibrato has all but disappeared, and his breathy, carnal whisper is a shallow husk of what it used to be. Onstage, he occasionally jilts and sways and makes gestures as vague as a politician’s, but for the most part, simply stands and sings. His voice is an odd mixture of hoarseness and warmth, like John Hurt with ice cream in his throat.
Of course, that could just be the pathetic fucking sound in Eldborg. The treble skitters randomly across the room, somehow managing to make Ferry’s vocals and the guitars and the saxophone sound dull, and yet making his harmonica and backup singers sound shrill and scraping. And I don’t even want to talk about what happens to the bass in that room.
But whatever. The infirmities of age and the lameness of Eldborg aside, the man and his band did put on two more-than-decent shows of two sets each, with beautiful atmospheres prevailing in the first set (“Don’t Stop The Dance,” “Alphaville,” “Reason Or Rhyme”) and passion and nostalgia winning the day in the second set (“More Than This,” “Avalon,” “Love Is The Drug”). They also reached ’70s-Roxy-levels of hedonism and pomp, with “Like A Hurricane’s” lengthy guitar solos and “Let’s Stay Together’s” scantily clad dancing girls.
His choice of songs was pretty disappointing, though. There was way, way too much Dylan going on—nearly every other song was a Dylan cover—with ‘All Along The Watchtower’ feeling particularly hackneyed and unnecessary, and an encore of two more covers (Lennon’s “Jealous Guy” and Sam & Dave’s “Hold On, I’m Coming”) was a thoroughly unmemorable way to end the night. Five of his greatest albums, ‘In Your Mind,’ ‘Boys & Girls,’ ‘Taxi,’ ‘Mamouna’ and ‘Frantic,’ were represented by maybe four songs, if even that. This, coupled with the backing band’s general stiffness and businesslike delivery, left one feeling somewhat wanting.
But, like I said, it was still a kickass experience, even with all of the aforementioned detractory attributes. His guitarists, veteran sessionist Chris Spedding and the 24-year-old Oliver Thompson, did have occasional moments of ferocity, with Thompson’s wall-of-noise guitar solo in the Sunday night rendition of “Reason Or Rhyme” being particularly memorable. Also, it’s important to note that these were the first two gigs of the tour; there may be some stress and chemistry issues left to work out in the band, and hopefully they’ll drop some of the poorer numbers from the set list, or at least move them around.
And I mean, come on. This is Bryan fucking Ferry. Just look at him. Go ahead, Google Image Search him, right now. I’ll wait. Find pics of him in glam-drag on stage with Brian Eno, or in that omnisexual white tux on the cover of “Another Time, Another Place.” Or better yet, YouTube him. YouTube old stuff or new stuff, I don’t care. There’s some Jools Holland stuff from like 2010, and he’s still a sexy-ass bastard. The man encapsulates cool at any age, with his impossible combination of flair and suaveness, perfectly fitting suits and piercing gaze. You try going to his show and having a bad time.