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Live Review: Roxy Music at United Center • Chicago

| September 20, 2022

Roxy Music

United Center, Chicago

Tuesday, September 19, 2022

Review by Jeff Elbel. Photos by Curt Baran.

Can it really be 50 years since the release of Roxy Music’s self-titled debut album? The English band’s music documented across seven albums spanning 1972 to 1982, still seems modern and forward-looking, even considering the longstanding acclaim that singles ranging from “Do the Strand” to “More than This” have attained. The band were architects of the New Romantic era of pop music and precursors of the New Wave ‘80s, with undeniable influence on top-selling bands of the day, including ABC, Spandau Ballet, and Duran Duran, to name only a few.

Roxy Music is celebrating its major milestone with its first North American dates since 2003. The ten-date tour stopped in Chicago on Tuesday. The show at United Center began with the energetic blast of the debut album track “Re-Make/Re-Model.” Fans throughout the arena sang the quirky glam-rock song’s license plate hook “CPL593H,” helping dapper singer Bryan Ferry to reinforce the half-century-old memory of a beautiful woman he once saw passing by in a car. Reeds player Andy Mackay and guitarist Phil Manzanera, both attired in sharp suits with open-collared shirts, traded their first of many bristling solos.

Drummer Paul Thompson propelled the moody “Out of the Blue” while Mackay played a silky clarinet lead and Ferry sang in a hushed croon. Manzanera’s slashing guitar solo was rendered larger than life when cast onto tiered digital screens rising four stories high into the rafters. Ferry added electric piano to the downbeat funk-pop rhythm and locked eyes in communion with his trio of soulful background vocalists. The principal players were further augmented by gifted musicians, including two keyboardists, a percussionist, a bassist, and a saxophonist. Second guitarist Tom Vanstiphout helped to recall the sublime dynamic between Manzanera and David Gilmour on the Pink Floyd guitarist’s Rattle That Lock tour through Chicago in 2016.

The set list touched all but one album from Roxy Music’s decade of albums. The understated but lush tones of 1982’s Avalon were heavily featured. “More Than This” and muted bossa nova “Avalon” were played back-to-back for an emotional apex near the end of the show. Thompson and deft bassist Neil Jason anchored the propulsive and hypnotic groove for Avalon’s “The Main Thing.” The group’s brasher early days were represented by fare including the riveting and tense punk-soul track “The Bogus Man.”

The generous set could have stood to have another favorite like “All I Want is You” from 1974’s acclaimed Country Life in addition to “Out of the Blue,” but Ferry acknowledged that the group couldn’t fulfill every diehard fan’s wish list when pulling “tidbits from here, there, and everywhere.” “As you can imagine, it’s hard to put it all together and please everybody, but we do try,” he said with a disarming laugh. Ferry acknowledged Roxy’s 50 years since first playing together as an anniversary worth celebrating. The audience indicated its agreement with enthusiastic cheers.

Mackay’s exotic oboe signaled the beginning of “Ladytron.” After switching to tenor saxophone, Mackay squared off with Manzanera at center stage for intertwining lines set to Thompson’s galloping rhythm. Manzanera lashed into the song’s expansive outro, thrashing his guitar during a stratospheric solo infused with twang and snarl.

“If There is Something” was performed with its signature loping rhythm and country twang, a dramatically different arrangement than the brazen rocker introduced to fans of David Bowie’s band Tin Machine in the ‘90s.

Part of the show’s charm of the show was seeing Ferry’s growing delight at the joy his band was bringing to the room. The further the show continued, the broader his boyish smiles were at the ends of songs and the more playful his demeanor became. After the audience rose to its feet and sang along to “Dance Away,” Ferry couldn’t resist exultation, beaming with his hands thrust skyward. Manzanera was in high spirits as well, radiating pride in his bandmates, playing with conviction, and sending goodwill into the room.

Looking remarkably fit for someone celebrating his 77th birthday in less than a week, Ferry alternated between standing at center stage, swaying for sentimental fare including the sparkling “Oh Yeah,” and seated at an electric piano for other songs like the unsettling ode to an inflatable doll “In Every Dream Home a Heartache.” The disquieted tune began under eerie green light. Ferry delivered the half-whispered lyric like a secret confession. “Is there a heaven?” he sang in a troubled voice. “I’d like to think so.”

The band yielded the stage to Mackay and his soprano saxophone during the tender instrumental “Tara,” concluding with an on-screen portrait in touching tribute to the late Queen Elizabeth II. The group returned for the smoldering “My Only Love,” featuring a solo by Vanstiphout that was reminiscent of tasteful blues-based rockers, including Gilmour and Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler. The urbane soul of “To Turn You On” followed. The urgent dance-rock track “Same Old Scene” marked a shift in energy as the set approached its final flurry of best-known songs. For Your Pleasure track “Editions of You” closed the main set on a high note. The players traded solos led by Mackay’s growling tenor sax, and keyboardist Chloe Beth Smith played bizarre synthesizer squonk a la absent original band member Brian Eno. Eno was also commemorated on the high-tech screens among flashback images from Roxy Music’s early days.

There was no denying the universal appeal of the band’s biggest singles. The room became a grooving dance party during the slinky “Love is the Drug.” The blissful vibe drew on each player’s strengths, with Manzanera’s funk guitar, Thompson’s taut rhythm, Mackay’s sly saxophone, and Ferry’s smoky vocal. The energy peaked with an encore performance of the campy kraut-pop “Do the Strand.” A cover of John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy” featured a Ferry vocal that was both pensive and soothing, and the song became a final celebratory moment with Mackay’s alto saxophone coda.

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