OAKLAND — It was somewhere just before the heartbeat-skipping drop in “In Every Dream Home a Heartache,” an ominous slithering snake of a song two-thirds of the way through Bryan Ferry‘s concert at the Fox Theater on Saturday, that I realized just how fantastic and mesmerizing the Roxy Music frontman and his nine-member band were.
The song, off Roxy Music’s 1973 album, For Your Pleasure, is a fan-favorite on record. But with the live arrangement—as with every song performed Saturday—it crackled and popped with even more energy. It began with Ferry’s low voice atop a bed of synths, shaking cymbals and bursts of saxophone provided by Jorja Chalmers—the secondary star of a band so proficient that it should never leave the road.
Then the aforementioned drop occurred and it had a physical effect on me: I had to catch my breath as a vacuum collected all the sound on stage and redirected it in the form of a massive wail of sound from all of the musicians and singers on stage.
Ferry, who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last spring, is in the process of wrapping up a monthlong U.S. tour. The focus was clearly on Roxy Music’s final album, 1982’s Avalon. That was the album that finally broke the band through in the U.S., and Ferry’s band performed seven of its 10 tracks. But the rest of his set, which included material from just about every Roxy Music album, as well as couple of cuts from solo records and two covers, came across just as well and in-your-face.
The art rock icon, who turns 74 in September, walked onto the stage in a signature gray suit to join his band, which was already revving its engine with “India,” and let go of the brakes on a driving “The Main Thing.” He spent the show between his microphone at the front of the stage and a keyboard, as he did on the second song, “The Space Between.” On “The 39 Steps,” a Ferry solo tune from the ’80s, the band members started taking starring turns carrying songs. Guitarists Tom Vanstiphout and Chris Spedding took turns spicing up various cuts like the entrancing “Boys and Girls” and “My Only Love.”
On “Out of the Blue,” from Roxy Music’s 1974 album, Country Life, violinist Marina Moore shined with piercing high notes as Ferry danced around the stage during her solo. The band included a talented drummer, keyboardist, bassist and backup vocalists, but it was Chalmers who provided the most show-stopping moments. On “While My Heart Is Still Beating,” a waltz, she laid down some fat notes over the brooding rhythm section. She held center stage on “Don’t Stop the Dance” as Ferry leaned in toward the crowd and crooned, the microphone cord wrapped around his left hand.
The performance included many warm moments as well, such as “Slave to Love,” off Ferry’s 1985 solo album, Boys and Girls, Roxy Music’s “Take a Chance With Me” and Avalon‘s title track.
The band got bluesy at times on a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,” which saw Ferry show his harmonica playing chops, broke out a Latin-tinged rhythm on Ferry solo cut “Bête Noire” (which also had another killer Moore violin solo). Want more variety? There was the funky hip-shaker “Dance Away,” the rousing “Love Is the Drug,” and the two rollicking, joyful tunes that concluded the show: “Virginia Plain” and a cover of Wilbert Harrison’s “Let’s Stick Together.”
Ferry, for his part, didn’t speak much other than to introduce the band. He did say he was fighting a cold.
“Thank you for listening to our music for so long,” he said.
The music did the rest of the talking.
Berlin singer-songwriter Femme Schmidt opened the concert with a seven-song set of moody, reverb-drenched songs. On “Shape of Love,” her guitarist built a moody looped melody behind her on the slow-burner. On “Strangers,” her angelic voice recalled that of “99 Luftballons” singer Nena.
“Blue Lips” had an ethereal arrangement that had the room reverberating. The artist concluded with a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” and the bluesy “Communicate.”
Follow editor Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter.