ROXY MUSIC Concerto (Burning Airlines)

"Concerto" is a double CD implementation of a concert Roxy played in Denver in April 1979 as part of their "Manifesto" tour, released without a shred of irony on a label named after an Eno song. The setlist includes pretty much all that you could ask or imagine: great swathes of the then-current album rub velvety shoulders with the arch, itchy art-rock of "Re-Make/Re-Model" and the mandatory "In Every Dream Home A Heartache". Two bonus tracks recorded in California a few days earlier add "Mother Of Pearl" and "Editions Of You", which is nice, and the band includes a pre-Adam And The Ants Gary Tibbs, of all people. Superficially "Concerto" is an enjoyable memento, but there's something hollow about the whole package, whether it be the sound (the mix is passable enough but it sounds curiously thin and distant, as if the entire band are huddled at the back of the stage in an attempt to make it to the rider as fast as possible) or the booklet art (pale travesties of the glamour girls who adorned Roxy's studio work). And all that really distances these performances from those you already know and love is the odd tilted-eyebrow comment from Ferry, such as "This is for anyone interested in schizophrenia" and "Some people couldn't make it tonight because of Passover, this is for them". Also, at barely a whisker over eighty minutes it wouldn't have been beyond the will of man to cram the whole kit caboodle onto a single CD, in which case the clumsy editing that has divorced Andy Mackay's oboe introduction to "Ladytron" (end of CD1) from the rest of the song (beginning of CD2) might have been easier to overlook. As it is, if you're fond of Roxy's music, you know what to do, but the interested beginner would be far better advised to head towards the original albums, most of which can comfortably be regarded as classics.

ROXY MUSIC Live (Eagle)

live.jpg (19946 bytes)Perhaps it has taken their 18 year absence, and the 2001 reunion tour that this double CD documents, to fully appreciate the towering genius of Roxy Music. They started out taking itchy, artistic experimentation into the top 10 with arch, glam-spattered jukebox nuggets like "Virginia Plain", whilst carving out abrasive, reverberent soundscapes on the equally successful accompanying albums. The band's later configuration, arguably yet more subversively, seeded shifting sands of regret and ennui beneath immaculately luxuriant, palatially appointed melodic gloss.

And on "Live" they do both, brilliantly. Any arguments that a Roxy reunion would be glaringly incomplete without Eno's participation are swept aside by the consideration that the balding Prof was part of their sound for barely two years, and the observation that, of the cast assembled here, Bryan Ferry, Andy Mackay and Phil Manzanera have appeared on every album to bear the Roxy Music seal, whilst drummer Paul Thompson only bailed out for their final studio work, "Avalon". Flitting between the two extremes (both chronologic and stylistic) of the band's music with alacrity, they begin at the beginning ("Re-Make/Re-Model", which announced their eponymous 1972 debut album, and here replaces the original's "Day Tripper" bass break with the James Bond theme) and career through 22 selections that draw almost equally from all points of their discography. Perhaps the "Avalon" material is slightly chunkier and overplayed, but that's about as much criticism as can reasonably be levelled at the band's performance. And if there's little in the way of startling reinvention going on in these freshly-scrubbed interpretations, the extended "Tara", twice the size of the original and as modelled by Ferry in recent solo concerts, and the cherry-picking of "Stranded"'s epic "A Song For Europe" and "Mother Of Pearl" comfortably compensate.

Old rocker specialists Eagle have done a fine job on the packaging, the discs nestling snugly in a double digipak along with a booklet that boasts learned notes and two pages of bedazzled quotes from press sources the world over that nevertheless doesn't carry even the faintest whiff of hype. Video footage of "Both Ends Burning" is also featured, if that matters to you. But if it does, it should do so rather less than the excellent music "Live" contains, which, seamlessly stitched together from 15 different performances, must surely pretty much approximate most people's idea of their dream Roxy Music gig.

ROXY MUSIC Roxy Music (Virgin)

It’s quite staggering to consider that, at the time of its 1972 release, this was popular music, reaching the UK top ten. It’s also hard to think of a debut album so intoxicated on its own cleverness. The opener, “Re-Make/Re-Model”, is a seminal statement of intent in itself. Beginning with the noise of a glittering cocktail party in which the sound of the album can just about be determined playing in the background if you squint your ears a bit, its glam rock stomp is booted into the stratosphere by the band’s two Br(y/i)ans, Ferry’s quavering vocals and Eno’s flatulent, spiky electronics, working in quotations from Wagner, Bo Diddley and The Beatles as it flies. Several of the song intros mark Eno’s interest in ambient music years before he gave the genre a name. Ferry’s penchant for drama is illustrated by “If There Is Something”, which begins as a jaunty country rock number, gradually darkening until it finds the singer desperately pleading for a life of rural domesticity, with potatoes in the garden and roses round the door. “Virginia Plain”, originally a standalone single, seems to ramraid the entire history and future of pop music in less than three minutes, and, with its fade-in and abrupt close, must have been a nightmare for radio DJs to programme. “The Bob (Medley)” is the band at its most progressive and disjointed: bookended by sections of almost King Crimson-esque heaviosity (perhaps unsurprisingly, given that the album was produced by that band’s lyricist, Pete Sinfield), it also encompasses ambience, a sound collage and a spoken interlude. Only marginally less strange, “Chance Meeting” is a stilted, “Brief Encounter”-inspired piano ballad riven by sheets of screaming feedback, and the polite chamber-pop “Would You Believe?” is ripped apart by an eruption of piano-bashing, sax-parping rock ‘n’ roll. “Sea Breezes” is an early draft of the kind of long-form piece that would achieve maturity on Roxy’s next album “For Your Pleasure”; it’s still a bit bitty here. The whole shebang closes with “Bitters End”, a slinky, elaborate cabaret crooner with luxuriant doowop overtones that gently returns the listener to that dreadfully fashionable cocktail party from whence they came with Ferry’s final kiss-off “His reaction acid sharp/Should make the cognoscenti think”. What a long, strange trip it’s been, and if ultimately “Roxy Music” is perhaps Roxy Music’s least cohesive album, it’s all the more interesting because of it.

Reissued on vinyl as part of the “From The Capitol Vaults” series (something of a misnomer, as I suspect the album, whose recording was paid for by the band’s management and released, as with the rest of the Roxy catalogue, on a bewildering array of labels over the decades, hasn’t ever been anywhere near the Capitol vaults) the gatefold sleeve is true to the original issue, although the inner sleeve and labels most definitely aren’t. It might well be pressed on 180 gram vinyl (albeit 180 of the flimsiest grams of vinyl I’ve yet encountered) but it certainly ain’t the audiophile quality the sticker boasts of, sounding better than the original US Reprise issue it was bought to replace but far from the penthouse perfection later Roxy recordings would achieve.

ROXY MUSIC / HOT CLUB OF COWTOWN / NO. 1 STATION Manchester Evening News Arena 30 January 2011

 

It’s 20:15 and we’ve already seen two support acts, and although it’s almost disingenuous to discuss value for money in relation to a 65 ticket (heck, I had three days of Reading Festival in 1993 for less than that) it seems as though rather more than the bare minimum of effort is being expended here. It also seems as though my self-imposed embargo on attending shows at the MEN Arena was based on nothing more substantial than fear, uncertainty and doubt (it taking the prospect of seeing Roxy Music here or nowhere at all to test my reserve to snapping point) because P rows back on the floor the sound is fine (although the reverberation churning away behind me suggests it might not be so good elsewhere) and the view unimpeded.

               

No. 1 Station are an eight-piece who, by their own admission, “are reggae, we are ska, we are rocksteady, we are bluebeat”. They are at least moderately entertaining and the MEN audience is polite enough back at them. Also, it looks like “Check us out on iTunes” is going to be this decade’s “We’ve got some CDs for sale in the foyer”.

               

There’s not enough time for the house lights to come up again before a lady with a fiddle and two gentlemen toting an electric guitar and a double bass with what looks like an umbrella swinging loosely from its nether regions take to the stage. “We are Hot Club Of Cowtown”…well, why didn’t you say before? Their blend of bluegrass and country is hardly an easy sell to an arena audience, I would have thought, but they manage it admirably, playing a set that includes couple of tip-of-my-tongue covers and a song that I genuinely recognise, “’Deed I Do”. I’m still a bit irate that a total lack of advance publicity deprived me the opportunity to do some enjoyment-furthering research prior to their performance, though.

               

To the recorded strains of “India” the 40th anniversary re-make/re-model of Roxy Music take to the stage, and there certainly seem to be a hell of a lot of them, round about a dozen musicians all told, and given the doubling up on guitarists, percussionists, saxophonists and keyboard players there’s almost enough of them to make up two Roxys. Somewhere on stage is two-thirds of the band’s original incarnation, though, a satisfyingly high percentage given their tendency to misplace bassists and fracture into studio-bound sessioning over the decades. “The Main Thing” seems like a strange choice of opener, hardly being the most engaging or propulsive moment of their latest album proper (i.e. “Avalon”, a mere 28 years old) but in the overwhelming delight that sweeps the audience, scooping us up from our seats to our feet, nobody’s complaining. The fact that, compared with the pindrop clarity of the support acts, the sound has acquired a roiling, obfuscating boom also goes unremarked under the circumstances.

               

The setlist’s a bit of a weird one. Suffice it to say that anybody attending on the back of even a comprehensive singles compilation will spend great swathes of the evening in befuddlement. No Human League-style play the hits set, the band display an unexpected fondness for the more challenging moments of the “Country Life” album (the glam-country “Prairie Rose” and the clatteringly awful “Bitter-Sweet”) and “Sentimental Fool”, surely unheard  and unlamented since about 1975. What’s especially irksome about these inclusions is that they come at the expense of wonders such as “A Song For Europe”, “Mother Of Pearl” and “In Every Dream Home A Heartache”, all of which can be heard on the wondrous live album that accompanied their last large-scale reunion a decade ago. Whilst I’m whingeing, I have to say that the visual (live action mixed with video footage displayed on a huge screen above the stage; choreography and costumery) overload is almost too much to take in; it’s kind of a relief when Bryan retreats to a keyboard at the back of the stage, leaving the band without a de facto visual centrepiece until a spotlight picks out a saxophonist or guitarist gripped by the urge to solo. Similarly, there are some songs that can more than tolerate having all those musicians heaped upon them, specifically the early, kitchen sink kitsch of “Virginia Plain”, “Do The Strand”, “Pyjamarama” and “Street Life”, but others, well, not so much.

               

That’s it with the moaning, though, as there’s much here to enjoy, not least the thrill of it all in finally getting to see Roxy Music after decades of fandom. “Just Like You” and “Amazona” are unexpected but welcome selections from “Stranded”, my favourite of their albums on the days that it isn’t “Avalon”. “If There Is Something” shoulders the weight of all those guitar and sax solos, and “2HB”, replete with the inevitable Humphrey Bogart footage on the silver screen behind, is a delight. A cover of Neil Young’s “Like A Hurricane” is notable for Oliver Thompson’s blistering guitar solo that almost out-Manzaneras Phil Manzanera, and if “Avalon” and (yay!) “To Turn You On” don’t quite recapture the slinky sinuousness of their recorded versions, they come darn close. The encore-less evening ends with a trio of tunes from “For Your Pleasure”, the musicians leaving one by one during the closing title track.

              

 I’m being unfair in judging a single concert against the judiciously edited and compiled perfection of the live album from the band’s 2001 tour, with its definitive rendition of a perfect setlist. By normal standards, with the caveat that the song selection favours the hardcore over the fairweather fan, this is a triumphant performance. In fact, according to a friend who saw them a decade earlier as well, they’re even better now than then. Roll on the next ten years, he says optimistically.

Harold Budd/Brian Eno

Cluster & Eno

Brian Eno

Bryan Ferry

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