Bryan Ferry Takes Us To Another Time, Another Place at The Met, Philadelphia
by John Diliberto 8/11/2019
The newly refurbished Metropolitan Opera House in Philadelphia is the perfect venue for Bryan Ferry to bring his suave and sophisticated take on art-rock. As the voice of Roxy Music from their first album in 1972, it was Ferry who brought a sense of the debonair and erudite to the band with his smooth, crooning voice and resplendent clothes that made him look like the morning-after at the ball. At first it was ironic, a counterpoint to Brian Eno’s flamboyant glam attire and Phil Manzanera’s biker leather. But by the time of their 1975 album, Siren, Ferry was taking it seriously.
He solidified that image with many of his solo albums, like These Foolish Things and Another Time Another Place, covering 60s pop tunes as a Las Vegas-style lounge act. That culminated with this 2018 album, Bitter-Sweet in which he covers his own music as 1920s Weimar Republic crooner jazz for the TV series, Babylon Berlin.
That might lead you to think that Ferry wasn’t rocking it out. Early on, I thought that might be the case until I saw him whip it out at the Tower Theater on the Siren tour in 1975. In an unpublished review for the Walrus radio trade publication, I wrote, “Forget Springsteen, this is the future of Rock and Roll.” Okay, I was like, 21 then, but you get it.
The Bryan Ferry who came to the Met was a little more subdued. He sat behind a Fender Rhodes and synthesizer for much of the show, but even when he stood center stage he was restrained. But his voice had no less power and his repertoire alternated moody, hallucinogenic songs like the Roxy classic from 1973, “In Every Dream Home a Heartache” with more rocking tracks like “Love is the Drug” from 1975’s Siren.
With a nine-piece band, He played music from across his solo and Roxy career including performing almost all of Avalon, Roxy’s grand swan song. His arrangements remained faithful to the originals but guitarists Tom Vanstiphout and long-time veteran Chris Spedding took their own liberties like the snarling wah-wah solo by Vantispout on “The 39 Steps.” It took Spedding until the closer, “Let’s Stick Together,” to really whip it out.
“Let’s Stick Together”, was originally recorded by Wilbert Harrison in 1962, but Ferry’s version is based on the arrangement by Canned Heat in 1970 which was a hit in England. Ferry’s original rendition in 1975 remains his biggest hit in the UK. It was one of three covers that Ferry played including a less harrowing, Allman Brothers-go-Country take on Bob Dylan’s “Just Like Thom Thumb’s Blues,” There was also a languid rendition of John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy.”
Ferry’s band enlivened several tracks. Aside from the guitarists, saxophonist Jorja Chalmers played the riffs originally created by Andy MacKay and on “If There Is Something”, a song from Roxy’s debut, she ripped out a long, reverb drenched and delayed solo. I would’ve liked to have heard more from violinist Marina Moore, who promised a lot on a searing solo on “Out of the Blue.” Fonzi Thornton and Tawatha Agee handled the backing vocals with Agee in particular leaping out on a few Clare Torry-style wailing flights.
With Roxy Music entering the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year and Ferry on the verge of 74, the concert had the feel of a victory lap, like the last couple of Paul McCartney’s tours, Ferry wasn’t at all reflective. Other than acknowledging solo performers and introducing the band, he didn’t speak to the nearly full-house audience in The Met at all. He simply outlined his storied and influential career in song across nearly 2 hours. After the roar of “Let’s Stick Together” he waved and walked off stage left, without an encore.
Opening the show was a very impressive young singer from Germany, Femme Schmidt, who, except for a misguided take on Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide,” delivered a compelling set that hovered on the borders of singer-songwriter and dream pop.I’m looking forward to checking out her new music.