Concert Review: Bryan Ferry/Judith Owen

Concert Review: Bryan Ferry/Judith Owen

Shit gets weird when you’re seated in the back.

Location is everything, at least that’s what a realtor will tell you. At concerts, it’s the same sort of thing. The closer one is at a show, the more invested they become. It’s true. When you can see the performer’s eyes, observe the intricacies of what’s going on with the band, a concert can become an absorbing experience. Shit gets weird when you’re in the back.

Bryan Ferry and opening act Judith Owen stopped at Portland’s glamorous Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall this August, playing a setlist not only full of Roxy Music favorites but a chockful of cover songs as well. The Schnitzer’s balcony seems to be miles away from the stage. The show was somewhat undersold as the lower balcony was dotted with empty seats while the entire upper portion was cordoned off.

Owen opened with a 35-minute setlist that focused heavily on new album Somebody’s Child. Her music, which sounded similar to Randy Newman’s Pixar songs if sung by an ‘80s era Marianne Faithfull, alternated between well-composed pop songs and somewhat schmaltzy slow numbers that dealt with death and heartbreak. A woman, probably in her 50s, texted through her entire set. The usher stood in the portal and danced. Owen seemed so far away that her age and hair color were indeterminate. Fans of Tapestry would love her music, that’s for sure. Her string section helped take away some of the slickness, especially on the set-closing cover of “Aquarius.”

We moved to the very back of the lower balcony to escape the glare of the woman on the phone. Occasionally, I would glance over during Bryan Ferry’s set and she would still be bathed in her iPhone’s glorious light. I think she spent the entire encore bent completely over her phone. Meanwhile, our new neighbor was up to something shifty. Somewhat overweight, definitely pushing 60, the guy spread himself over two seats and dangled his legs over a third. It’s okay, there was no one sitting there anyway. He kept looking around furtively, holding his bag horizontally over his lap. I think he was recording the show. But who knows, really?

From where we sat, Ferry looked really suave in his suit, his white shirt unbuttoned a few. His voice has gone spectral in recent years, and although he seemed lithe and limber, his vocals were tough to hear. Sometimes he seemed to hide behind his two backing singers. Rather than focus on his solo material, much of his nearly 25-song set consisted of Roxy Music favorites and covers.

Kicking off with “The Main Thing,” Ferry was bolstered by saxophonist Jorja Chalmers, who stalked the stage in stiletto heels, squawking out Brian Eno’s parts on early Roxy favorites such as “Do the Strand,” “If There is Something” and “Editions of You.” A lot of the set actually felt like too much, as if the band was compensating for Ferry’s faltering voice. However, the best moments were the quieter ones. Ferry more than handled “In Every Dream Home a Heartache” on his own, allowing the band to earn its crescendo towards the end. The audience on the floor finally got into things towards the back half of the set when “Avalon” and “Love is the Drug” appeared.

If there were any complaints, besides some of the weirdos in the cheap seats, it was Ferry’s insistence to bump deep Roxy Music cuts with some obvious covers. Of course, we know that Ferry is a Dylan fanatic (he played “Simple Twist of Fate”), but we also got covers of songs by Neil Young, Wilbert Harrison, The Velvet Underground and John Lennon.

It was good night for fans of Ferry and Owen. Sadly, there were some of us in the balcony yearning to get away from the comforting light of a cell phone and closer to the action below.

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