Roxy Music celebrated their fiftieth anniversary of their debut recording and paid a visit to the newest music venue in town. Before we get to the show review, here are a few words on my first visit to MGM Live. The venue boasts a lot of things you’d expect from a brand new venue; outstanding sight lines through the cavernous space, excellent sound and a lighting rig that is flexible and impressive. This was a seated floor show and judging by a quick glance around, the floor is a bit smaller than Roadrunner, but the two tiered balcony has a much larger capacity and is the main difference between the ~5.5K and 3.5K capacities of the respective venues. The negatives include location (both a Red Sox game and event at House of Blues meant getting to the venue and/or finding a reasonable place to park became almost a quixotic mission) and some general growing pains of a new staff, as employees are still getting up to speed. Compounding this was the fact that the show was moved from TD Garden and hard ticket holders had to exchange their tickets at Will Call for new ones; the lines were massive, tempers were short and the fact that previous tour support St Vincent was off playing Bourbon and Beyond meant that the decision to delay the start of the show until 9PM was a wise one.
But back to the important bits; how did the band sound? In a nutshell, excellent. I know some have been grousing a bit about Bryan Ferry’s nearly 77 year old vocal cords but to my ears he sounded fine, only sustain was a bit lacking. The decision to bring a trio of excellent backing vocalists (Phebe Edwards, Fonzi Thornton and Senab Adekunle) was a wise one and helped fill in the sound where it was needed. I can’t imagine anyone was surprised to see the absence of Brian Eno, who hasn’t been involved with the band since the mid-70s and bassist Graham Simpson passed a decade ago but the rest of the original lineup was there and in fine fettle.
Paul Thompson was augmented by percussionist Tugg Curran and truly locked in with Neil Jason’s bass playing, creating a taut but supple foundation. Likewise, the other members had some supplemental help but shone in their own right. Andy Mackay occasionally let Jorja Chalmers take over some of the sax leads but he showed that his technique hasn’t lost a step. Phil Manzanera remains a creative player, his mutated C&W licks on the early part of “If There Is Something” contrasting with the urgency of his playing as the song pushed to the end when Mackay really took control. Ferry skipped out on the vocal quavering but Mackay’s fluid oboe remains the perfect tone for the song, and the coda of repeated “when you were young” was a little bittersweet. When called on, Tom Vanstiphout provided solid playing but one never got the impression that Manzanera needed any assistance tonight.
Coming on to the stage to a taped version of “India,” the band kicked right into “Re-Make/Re-Model” and it remains the sonic jolt it carried five decades prior, with the sly nod to “Day Tripper” followed by bursts of noise and keyboard squiggles that wouldn’t be out of place on a Sun Ra record. If you squint your ears hard enough, you might even convince yourself that a few years later, Bowie would take inspiration from Ferry’s vocals for “TVC15.” Still a timeless song.
“Out Of The Blue” and “Ladytron” were on point, demonstrating why the strange mix of glammy weirdness and soulful crooning captivated so many people. Could a dead-eyed, detached song about a twisted relationship with a blow-up doll be done by anyone other than Roxy Music? Doubtful but I’m open to hear otherwise.
Which leads me to the other side of the coin. The pick of the introduction music wasn’t a fluke, and while it’s hard to deny that loads of people were attending to hear songs from Avalon and Flesh + Blood, for me those records are trumped up prom themes with little of the allure that made the earlier records so fascinating. Still, the closer of “Jealous Guy” is a remarkable reading of Lennon’s classic, and as the crowd shuffled out there was a collective feeling of awe and appreciation that Roxy Music exists in the same era as we do.