Review and Photos by Tony BonyataJudging from his own long-standing history as co-conspirator of the glam rock movement in the early '70s and his later shift to a decidedly more sophisticated, romantic style of rock there was no reason for any of his slightly aging, yet undeniably hip, audience to be surprised at Bryan Ferry's spectacular performance last Tuesday evening at the grand Chicago Theatre. After all, for those lucky enough to have been following the latter part of his still potent career, they know that along with his last two stellar albums - 1999's As Time Goes By, a glowing collection of '30s and '40s standards and torch songs, as well as his more recent effort Frantic, a healthy album of punchier self-penned rock numbers and wonderfully textured cover versions, not to mention a triumphant reunion tour last year with his groundbreaking rock band Roxy Music, that this 57-year old rock stalwart is now at the peak of his career.
With debonaire, age-defying good looks, the slender Ferry, with Aston Martin blown-dried brown hair and modeling a blue silk suit, tastefully opened his show with the introspective "The Only Face, where his own piano was accompanied solely by the haunting violin of bandmate Lucy Wilkins. Still keeping the momentum of the show at bay, Ferry then took center stage for a sparse, yet promising, arrangement on a cover of Bob Dylan's "Don't Think Twice," which saw the one-time Roxy Music vocalist adding his own Zimmerman-ized harmonica for pleasing results.
Ferry not only traded between his piano, harp and frontman duties often throughout the night, but, ever the fashion-plate, he also quietly slipped offstage during the jazzier instrumental interludes to change into three different suits throughout the evening. This seemed rather unnecessary, however, as he didn't appear any more, or less, dashing than in his previous get-up. Of course, this could have just been to satisfy his own fashion fetish, since with every change a hint of renewed vigor seemed to emerge in his performance.
Those longing for the musicianship of his former '70s band were not disappointed as Ferry brought along with him, arguably, the strongest pool of artists he's ever assembled together onstage. From the galvanizing leads from longtime collaborator Chris Spedding to Wilkins' intellectual violin musings as well as former Roxy Music drummer Paul Thompson's intricate rhythms, this band only helped to strengthen Ferry's charismatic presence. By the sixth number the stage was packed as his remaining musicians - including sax, percussions, keys, and three leggy female background vocalists - filled the floor. It was at this time that the momentum of the show built up so much steam there was no turning back.
Considering the quality of his recent efforts, one might assume that Ferry would've concentrated heavily on his last two releases. But surprisingly enough only a fifth of the show featured songs from Frantic, and even more surprising was the total omission of material from As Time Goes By (which, by the way, was this reviewer's only minor complaint of the evening). Nonetheless, songs from Frantic, such as the iron-fist-rocker-wearing-Gucci-gloves of "Cruel," the poignant "Fool For Love," which was steeping in Spedding's spiritualized guitar, and yet another Bob Dylan cover on the jaunting "It's All Over Now Baby Blue," were every bit as engaging as the broad mix of music which filled out the rest of the night.
And broad it was, as he worked in his own classic covers of John Lennon's "Jealous Guy" and Canned Heat's "Let's Stick Together," both which Ferry has turned into his own signature numbers, as well as older solo material such as "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes," "Slave To Love," the high energy "Tokyo Joe," and a wonderfully cheeky and irresistible encore of "Wooly Bully," which further showcased the band as an explosive party band to be reckoned with.
With the eclectic warble of his voice from earlier in his career having matured into a much richer, more stabile instrument over recent years, Ferry gave slightly new twists on the Roxy crowd favorites, "Love Is The Drug," complete with elaborately plumed showgirls, and the quirky eruption of Roxy's quintessential number from 1973 "Do The Strand," where Ferry broke into a tough-yet-fey arm-swinging dance. Considering that much of his later Roxy Music material more closely mirrored his own romantically inclined ballads from his solo career, the inclusion of these two earlier numbers gave the performance a welcome, if not necessary, edge.
Dashing, suave and, above all, a talented showman in the grand tradition of fellow contemporary David Bowie, Ferry is still the undeniable playboy of rock.
Eat your heart out, James Bond. You ain't got nothing on this guy.
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