Author’s Note: I’ve always loved Roxy Music and yet this piece, from the tail end of my professional writing career, is I think the only time I ever wrote about them. I was quietly chuffed when the final sentence of this review was one of 15 press quotes from around the world that were used to decorate the centrefold of the eventual live album, Roxy Music Live, released two years later. One usually wouldn’t care much about that sort of thing but… well, bloody hell, it’s Roxy Music! As a footnote, I was delighted to be given a license to include the Roxy track ‘South Downs’ on the charity CD The Wildlife Album in 2005. A fairly impressionistic instrumental, it transpires that somebody had included it running backwards, by accident, on the Roxy Music box set to which I referred in passing in the review. If you want a job done well…
The Point Depot, Dublin, June 9 2001
Published: Record Collector, August 2001
Set List: Remake-Remodel / Street Life / Ladytron / Heart Still Beating / If There Is Something / Out Of The Blue / Song For Europe / My Only Love / Oh Yeah / Both Ends Burning / [Andy Mackay solo] / Avalon / More Than This / Mother Of Pearl / Jealous Guy / Editions Of You / Love Is The Drug / Do The Strand / For Your Pleasure
This could have been a travesty – and it wasn’t. It was a triumph: Ferry’s voice showed little sign of the thinness characterising recent solo work; the ten-piece band had more balls and punch – if more to prove – than Roxy’s last touring unit in ’83; and finally, this may have been a tour to promote their latest best-of but it was a set list for those who already own the box set.
Scene-setting with a pre-show sequence of moody instrumentals, including the sublime B-side ‘South Downs’, fore-warned that this would be no Avalon-by-numbers affair. (Incidentally, is anyone at Camp Roxy aware that the version of ‘South Downs’ on the Thrill Of It All box set is an inferior mix?) Opening to the unmistakeable rush of ‘Remake-Remodel’ from the debut album, the first thing apparent – bar Phil Manzanera and Andy Mackay’s neo-teddy-boy wardrobery – is how fantastic a drummer Paul Thompson is. Bryan, Phil and Andy may be the ones in the reunion pics but the bedrock to this concert’s success lies in small part at the door of Paul Thompson. Yet, as the diminishing artistic and commercial returns of all four’s post-Roxy activities should demonstrate, there is something in the Roxy brand and experience much greater than the sum of its parts.
Evident at this tour’s opening night showing was a bunch of individuals who were clearly embracing with a gusto akin to that of a dedicated tribute band the opportunity to remake, remodel and celebrate every corner of such a rich catalogue of music. Those who had come anticipating only the later hits would be, if not disappointed, then certainly challenged to come along for one frenetically-paced two-hour ride through the whole maelstrom of magic that had electrified the early seventies. Late period hits – though, daringly, no ‘Dance Away’ or ‘Angel Eyes’ – were sprinkled throughout lest the experience prove too heady for some. Surprisingly, ‘Avalon’ was one of only a couple of weak moments throughout. Memorable on record, its failure to sparkle onstage may reflect the apogee of multi-layered sumptuousness in its original production – a sound that climaxed the group’s original journey and which, even with the supreme Chris Spedding filling in guitar textures, cannot be convincingly reproduced.
Another slight disappointment was Ferry’s vocal delivery during the latter part of ‘If There Is Something’ – emotionally scorching in 1972, taken with a more pedestrian lilt today. Balancing that, though, was Spedding’s stunning coda to ‘My Only Love’ – a masterclass in the expressive power of the instrument, only narrowly failing to reach escape velocity when Mackay (not on the record) wandered on to riff superfluously. Thankfully, if this was a touch of ego, it was rarely displayed. This was primarily an ensemble show, with occasional doffs of the spotlight toward the hired hands: pianist Colin Good, a bass player, a backing vocalist, a percussionist and violinist/synth twiddler Wincey Wilkins. Much – too much – has been made of Brian Eno’s non-involvement in the reunion, but on a purely musical level there was nothing he had played on record that Wilkins couldn’t replicate onstage. Following a spontaneous rush to the front of this well-heeled 8000-seater during ‘More Than This’, ‘Mother Of Pearl’ might have been expected to deflate the moment but a cunningly-chosen (or luckily next on the list) ‘Jealous Guy’ kept it together even producing, in its play-out, something akin to a ‘Radio Ga Ga’ hand-clapping effect in the now all standing crowd. ‘Editions Of You’ was simply manic – a mischievous reminder that Roxy, latterday darlings of the jet set, were once on the cutting edge of popular music. And don’t you forget it.
As for style-maestro Ferry, he changed his jacket twice, sashayed and grooved around in that peculiarly angular way one expects of him and, by the time the encores came around, seemed so thrilled – and justly so – with the way it had all turned out that he was goofing almost wilfully on the borders of self-parody. But who’s complaining? This was a fabulous show: a reputation maintained and a public surprised, perhaps, but also delighted. Roll on the live album!