Tuesday, August 09, 2016

More Than This: At Ravinia, Bryan Ferry Impresses with Range of Music, Roxy and Otherwise -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Bryan Ferry
w/ opening act LP (Laura Pergolizzi)
Ravinia Festival, Highland Park, IL
August 6, 2016

Give or take a few, I had seen 688 rock concerts, dating back 35 years, before I saw Bryan Ferry for the first time Saturday night at Ravinia.

Ferry, who first came to attention as the vocalist for Roxy Music on their self-titled 1972 debut, and whose name I've known since at least the mid-'80s and whose music I've liked most of the time since--at least on a greatest hits level, with Roxy and solo--is now 70 years old.

A glance at his Chicago area shows over the years suggests that I hadn't let that many opportunities go by unconverted, yet for whatever reasons, Ferry remained one of the few rock legends I had an inkling of wanting to see but never had.

But with recent months having included similar first-time forays--at least as headlining solo artists--to see David Gilmour, Peter Wolf and Michael McDonald, and the fairly recent past initially getting me to Chicago, Earth, Wind & Fire, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Alice Cooper, Jackson Browne and other classic rock acts long missing from my concert database, I'm glad opportunity (and a pavilion seat bargain through GoldCoastTickets.com) coalesced to Ferry me to Ravinia.

I'd had heard pretty good things about shows of his in the not too distant past, but couldn't help but
wonder if first seeing an artist at the age of 70, roughly 45 years into his career, would make enjoyment--let alone assessment--somewhat challenged, even impaired and comparatively unfair.

Yet although the Englishman's face is a bit weathered, his voice still sounds strong and he remains the quintessence of a suave rock singer.

And as he surveyed his entire career--opening with a pair of strong songs from his 2014 solo album Avonmore (the title track and "Driving Me Wild") and including a quartet from Roxy Music's debut--Ferry seemed energized by his youthful 9-piece backing band.

With a guitarist from Denmark, saxophonist from Australia and other players & singers from varied locales--many seeming young enough to be Bryan Ferry's grandchildren--the wide-ranging set was delivered with energy, aplomb and vigor.

While a good bit of Spotifamiliarization led up to the concert, I was particularly impressed at Ravinia by how Ferry and his band made songs I hadn't previously known--and some that I wasn't even that dazzled by in having listened on Spotify--come across as highlights.

Following the two new songs that began the concert, Ferry's "Slave to Love" and "Don't Stop to Dance," sounded great, but a few songs later it was Roxy Music's "Oh Yeah"--which I now know as one of the band's best--that really got the pavilion crowd going. (See Bryan Ferry's full Ravinia setlist here.)

With the singer accompanied by just a pianist, a cover of Bob Dylan's "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright," was positively luminous, while the trio of backing vocalists shined on the Latin-tinged solo songs "Bête Noire" and "Zamba" before a string of lesser-known (at least to me) Roxy Music tracks came off far more impressive than I had anticipated: "Stronger Through the Years," the fine instrumental "Tara," "Take a Chance with Me," "Remake/Remodel," "In Every Dream Home a Heartache" and "If There Is Something."

Occasionally playing keyboards throughout the evening, Ferry delivered beguiling renditions of early-'80s Roxy ballads "More Than This" and "Avalon" followed by a show-closing rush of more danceable Roxy Music--"Love Is the Drug," "Virginia Plain," "Let's Stick Together," "Do the Strand" and "Both Ends Burning"--broken up only by his age-old cover of John Lennon's "Jealous Guy."

So although this was a latent live encounter with Bryan Ferry, I was not only impressed that he still sings well and can deliver an enjoyable show, in the way that great concerts should this one gave me a considerable richer appreciation of the artist's oeuvre.

Perhaps in keeping with the truth that Roxy Music doesn't rank with my very favorite bands--they didn't make my Top 125 in a list drafted last year, although I do believe they (and/or Ferry solo) belong in the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame--the show didn't quite provide the emotional embrace that David Gilmour or Robert Plant did in performing their old material, but it was entirely satisfying.

Opening the show was a fine female singer who goes by the moniker LP. Looking something like a young Bob Dylan but sounding akin to Florence and the Machine, she belted out several good songs with a fine band, including (as best I could tell) "Death Valley" and "Up Against Me."

I happened to be sitting next to a chatty couple including a man who works for Warner Bros. Records. He was familiar with LP--i.e. Laura Pergolizzi--and spoke highly of her.

After her performance, I could see why.

He also noted that after years of primarily going to concerts for free thanks to his employer, Bryan Ferry was a rare act he specifically wanted to see enough to have bought a ticket.

And after his performance, following years of my own elusion, I could also quite readily see why.

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