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Concert Review: Bryan Ferry

Concert Review: Bryan Ferry

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(Photos: Bruno Bollaert)

Let me start with a confession, little reader: I am a Bryan Ferry fanboy and I never thought I’d see him in the flesh. It’s not that the Roxy Music singer has ever stopped performing; he toured the United Kingdom just last year and will appear at this year’s Coachella Festival. He’s been busy in the studio, too, with his most recent solo album Olympia coming out in 2010 and overseeing The Jazz Age last year, a quirky collection of his catalog in old-time jazz. But between reunions with his legendary glam outfit and concerts an ocean away, I always assumed that the 68-year-old singer would very well pass away before I got a chance to see him.

And thus as I sat down in my seat at Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, I was a little nervous. It can be dangerous to meet your heroes, and Ferry has been an idol of mine for a long time. His refined, yet flamboyant dress sensibility; the fractured art-pop of his early Roxy years giving way to the ultra-smooth days of Avalon; the slick pop covers of his solo years. So I waited in a comfortable seat in one of the swankier venues in town (they even have ushers!) and worried: what if he phones it in? What if he only plays weird B-sides that no one had ever heard? What if he simply doesn’t live up to what I’ve built up in my mind.

Precisely at 9 PM, the lights went down and then the clattering intro to “Re-Make/Re-Model” kicked into gear. When the lights came back up, the center stage microphone was strangely empty and it took the audience a moment to find Ferry; when the people around me realized he was positioned on the far right of the stage behind a keyboard, there were audible gasps. For the remainder of the performance, he alternated between the keyboard and the main stage, which is odd for a notable showman. Maybe you can blame it on his advancing years, but as the show rolled on, Ferry seemed very comfortable ceding the spotlight to his band, most particularly multi-instrumentalist Jorja Chalmers.

During powerful performances of “Ladytron,” “If There Is Something” and “In Every Dream Home a Heartache,” Chalmers alternated between saxophone and oboe, earning a round of applause each time. The drummer, Cherisse Osei, was nearly as dynamic, hammering her kit and sometimes actually standing to give Ferry’s songs their full impact. But regardless of the youth and dynamism of the band, they couldn’t manage to earn even a fragment of the attention the singer received for the least movement. Dressed in a floral-patterned dinner coat and unknotted bow-tie, Ferry captivated the audience to an absurd degree throughout the 19-song set. The current “Can’t Let Go” tour was billed as something of a greatest hits showcase, and he didn’t disappoint. Three songs into the performance, I actually thought, wow, this is how he opens as “Re-Make/Re-Model,” his acidic “Kiss & Tell” and “Slave to Love” all barreled by in quick succession.

Truth be told, Ferry showed his age more than a few times. Nearing 70, his gyrations with a microphone stand sometimes seemed stiff and he often left the high notes and choruses to his two backup singers. While he’s always had a husky voice, he frequently sounded near a whisper during his performance, more notably when seated. But while up on the mic, Ferry managed to belt out “Editions of You” and “The Same Old Blues,” but he sounded most natural on “More Than This.” Stripped down to primarily his keyboard, one of his most iconic songs sounded even more melancholy and honest than the synthesizer-laden original, the lyrics “There’s nothing, more than this” more touching when conveyed by his weathered voice. Even if his vocals aren’t what they once were, they’ve been transformed into something equally beautiful.

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