Published Jul 18, 2016You have chanteur Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music to thank if punk or new wave mean anything to you. Ferry and his bandmates, including Brian Eno, directly influenced two decades of sound through Roxy Music's experimental blend of glam rock with synthesizers, Ferry's tongue-in-cheek lyrics, woodwinds and an exaggerated fashion sense. For a man of great influence, Ferry is woefully undersung outside of his native England.
Ferry's legacy is without question — indeed, the only matter much of Ottawa's RBC Bluesfest contemplated last night (July 17) was if Ferry could live up to his past on stage at 70. All doubt was lifted once Ferry glided onstage in a black suit to a ten-piece band in the throes of "Avonmore," the title track of his 2014 album. Ferry is still committed to being a bandleader for your pleasure, and what a pleasure it was to see him completely enthral a crowd of hundreds.
Unlike most headliner sets at Bluesfest, Ferry made his music the main spectacle, with a stage adorned by no more than burgundy theatre curtains. His band followed his dress code, wearing black suits and dresses as they excelled at oboe, violin, sax, guitars and percussion, with Ferry occasionally joining them on the keys.
Ferry and company followed with "Driving Me Wild" off Avonmore then his 1985 hit "Slave to Love" from Boys and Girls. The band were tight to the point of seduction on the grandiose, layered sound of "Ladytron," wah-wah guitar and clicking percussion intact. Cheers broke out in recognition of the first Roxy Music song of the night, and its furious eruption of solos, brass, keys and strings made for an ecstatic release.
His cover of personal idol Bob Dylan's "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" was a poignant moment backed by minimal piano. Ferry's trademark croon has taken on a velvety rasp in his later years, and he played it to his advantage here, softening phrase endings in a whisper to leave you hanging on his every word.
After a run of '80s material including the title track of Ferry's 1987 album Bête Noire and "Take a Chance with Me" from Roxy Music's 1982 swansong album Avalon, Ferry's set became largely Roxy-centric, including their disco hit "Love Is the Drug," new wave ballad "More Than This" and glam romp "Virginia Plain," off Roxy Music's self-titled 1972 debut. It was nearly confessional that Ferry's strongest work is with Roxy Music.
One of Ferry's finest moments of the night came from the three-act lover's lament of "If There Is Something" off Roxy Music's debut album. Rollicking keys, percussion and guitar built up with intensity as Ferry cried out "I would do anything for you!" With the same showmanship as Ferry, the band led the audience to clap with arms outstretched as they took in a magnificent oboe solo. Echoes of the final lyric "when we were young" was a sentimental moment for Ferry and the crowd, for in that moment, music had infinite passion and potential again.