Live: Bryan Ferry at the Greek Theatre
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Close-up images of fabric and hair flickered across the video screen behind Bryan Ferry on Saturday night at the Greek Theatre, where the veteran English singer ended his first American tour in nearly a decade. Like much throughout Ferry’s career, the visuals communicated dual meanings: Primarily, there was the obsession with style that has preoccupied Ferry since his early ’70s days fronting Roxy Music. (Here’s a guy with no shortage of ways to wear a scarf, as he demonstrated Saturday.)
But beneath that granular attention to the details of fashion, another message seemed to emanate more slyly from the screen. The images were reminding us that, at 66, Ferry still has plenty of hair to obsess over.
Not that this concert emphasized the singer’s youthfulness, a quality he appeared largely uninterested in even as a young man. Instead, Ferry’s attraction has always been to agelessness: the constant renewal of context enjoyed by archetypes and icons. (The title of the first song on the first Roxy Music album? “Re-Make/Re-Model.”) Dressed as usual in a crisp, dark suit, Ferry portrayed the kind of high-romantic consumption familiar from any number of literary characters; he was a man obliterated by love -- a slave to it, as one song put it -- only to be drawn back inexorably for another taste. The appeal of Ferry’s act, as with that of a Shakespearean performer, is the latitude (not to mention the dark comedy) he continues to find within the role.
Though he’s ostensibly traveling in support of last year’s “Olympia,” Ferry played only two songs from the album, both following an intermission that added to the show’s sense of theatricality. “You Can Dance” was throbbing funk with pealing guitars, while “Reason or Rhyme” struck a gentler, more sensual note, the video screen flashing photographs of Kate Moss, who appears on the cover of “Olympia” -- and also adorned Paul Thompson’s kick drum at the Greek. For the remainder of his two-hour set, Ferry led his slick 10-piece band (as well as a pair of go-go dancers) through occasionally radical versions of older material from his catalog and from the durable songbooks of others, including Bob Dylan (“Make You Feel My Love”), Neil Young (“Like a Hurricane”) and John Lennon (“Jealous Guy”). That the covers sounded no less like Ferry songs than the songs he’d written indicates Ferry’s view of the singer’s task: interpretation.
In a jittery rendition of Roxy Music’s “Avalon,” for instance, he resisted the song’s promise of contentment, stretching out the party-boy exhaustion depicted in the opening lyric. Later, Ferry’s appealingly forceful “Jealous Guy” had no remorse in it at all; his whistling felt something like a taunt.
Toward the very end of the show, Ferry’s investment in his remodeling project began to weaken: His “All Along the Watchtower” felt vague and impersonal, and his vocal contribution to Sam & Dave’s “Hold on, I’m Comin’ ” was almost laughably negligible. But onscreen, the latter was accompanied by animated dancing flamingos; like Ferry himself, they looked as cool as you could hope.
-- Mikael Wood