It’s somewhat disturbing walking in to an indoor stadium and seeing the venue filled to a level that could most charitably be described as half full. The continuing demand for bands to tour and play live to make up for the fact that they make few, if any, record sale royalties has seen the touring circuit flooded, particularly in Australia where parity with the US Dollar has seen the market chockers.
Hence Roxy Music take to the stage in a cavernous stadium which initially seems to eat them up. The bizarre announcement that ‘Roxy Music have left their dressing room to make their way to the stage’ makes you feel like you’ve stepped back in time to their theatre shows in England – you could almost be at their 31st March gig at the Rainbow Theatre in London in 1973. Storming the stage with ‘The Main Thing’ off their eponymous 1972 debut, they are all glitz and glamour but front man Bryan Ferry appears to struggle initially, coming in just a quarter or half beat off his vocal cues. Perhaps it’s a technical difficulty, but those of us in the cheap seats up the back on the top level (the very top level is curtained off) notice. Furthermore, we can’t really see the band – perhaps the promoter is trying to reduce his losses but the usual feature of arena shows – side of stage screens – are lacking, hence only those on the floor can see more than ant sized performers. Barrelling in to the set with ‘Is There Somethi ng?’ the band hit their mark, and Andy Mackay’s sax playing demonstrates his ability to use the instrument in a fashion that is rock n’ roll rather than hotel lobby muzak.
The band then continue Roxy Music’s penchant for covers, with an impassioned delivery of John Lennon’s ‘Jealous Guy’ and a strange but well delivered rendition of Neil Young’s ‘Like A Hurricane’. The former sees the raw emotional take of Lennon’s original end up becoming an end of night wedding reception version replete with overwrought guitar and sax solos, yet curiously hangs around in this reviewer’s head for days afterwards. The latter cover is perfunctory without ever being outstanding , new recruit Oliver Thompson hitting the guitar notes perfectly but never conjuring up the danger and unpredictability of Young playing Big Black. None the less, Ferry’s impassioned and accomplished vocal delivery gives the song a certain charm – although you could argue that it’s hard for accomplished musicians to fuck up a Neil Young classic.
‘2HB’ which featured on the Velvet Goldmine soundtrack in Jonathan Rhys Myers’ Venus In Furs band demonstrates the wide appeal of Roxy Music, and while tonight Ferry’s voice stamps his mark over the original, it’s at this point that Roxy Music’s ‘glamorous’ podium dancers come in to play. Sure, we’ve always known that the band were fond of women and worshipped their form, but to have 20 something backing dancers when you’re all a bunch of dirty old men in your 60s suggests that you haven’t moved with the times. Bryan Ferry, YOU are the sex symbol, as old as you may be, and there’s no need to denigrate women by having them gyrate silently on podiums behind you.
It’s at this point that a relatively lacklustre show suddenly comes in to its own. Sure the arena may be half full, we can’t see the band up the back because there are no side screens and the lighting only benefits the front few rows, but once Roxy Music rip in to the songs that made their name, all is forgiven. ‘Same Old Scene’, ‘Love Is The Drug’ and ‘Virginia Plain’ are text book examples of how to take art rock to an arena and prompt the curious but prevalent experience of 40 and 50 something women dancing in the aisles in high waisted jeans that they are clearly too fat for. Surely their attempts to marry music fandom and denim attire ended at Razor Nightclub at Chasers in Melbourne in 1983 – why replicate it now?
‘Do The Strand’ is sublime aurally, but is represented in a slideshow backdrop of newspaper clippings of the band through the years and bizarrely rests upon one Brian Eno for a few moments – curious as he left the band permanently about 38 years ago. ‘Avalon’ is timeless, although one wonders if the big band rendition takes away from the original recorded version’s subtleties, and the inclusion of ‘Let’s Stick Together’ from Ferry’s solo career would confound Roxy Music purists but doesn’t bother the largely suburban crowd tonight. Appropriately finishing up the set with ‘For Your Pleasure’ Roxy Music demonstrate that 40-odd years after their formation, they are still not just a touchstone for other artists but a genuine thrill to see live, no matter your age.
– Jim Murray