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POP MUSIC REVIEW : A Capable Ferry, Despite His Cold

The Sultan of Suave is back!

Beginning his first Southern California concert swing in nearly six years, veteran British pop/rock singer-songwriter Bryan Ferry performed Saturday night at the Santa Barbara County Bowl, and the setting--overlooking the city’s Mediterranean-like landscape--was the perfect backdrop for the epitome of European culture and class.

Ferry, however, didn’t look as if he was feeling particularly suave and sophisticated.

With his dark hair mussed and a drab hotel blanket draped over a slightly disheveled suit to ward off a fever, he resembled “Brideshead Revisited’s” Sebastian Flyte at the start of his decline. But where Flyte was brought down by drink, for Ferry, as the song that remains his signature says, “Love Is the Drug.”

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Unlike the one-dimensional cartoon Casanova that pop-rock rival Robert Palmer has become, Ferry’s persona has always been the complex character of a failed romantic using the sophistication as a cover.

And employing the blanket as an effective prop to help accent that quality, the singer served as Dante’s Virgil guiding the audience on a tour through love’s hell and purgatory, starting the evening with the self-explanatory “Limbo” and a demonically percolating “The Chosen One.”

From there he explored all angles of heartbreak with sophisto-funk songs like “Slave to Love” and “Don’t Stop the Dance” drawn from his recent solo material, as well as reaching back 16 years to his early Roxy Music days for several contrastingly rawer numbers.

From the latter came the set’s surprise highlight, “In Every Dream Home a Heartache"--a 1973 ode to an inflatable love doll delivered with a freshly weary, wry and witty sense of irony.

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In the end, Ferry offered but one distant glimpse of heaven with an encore of Roxy Music’s definitive ‘80s entry “Avalon” (featuring the angelic voice of backup singer Yanick Etienne. Then it was back to the pit with Roxy’s old frantic “Do the Strand.”

Where Ferry’s music on recent albums has been languid to the last drop (though artistically and enticingly so), he treated sleepy little Santa Barbara to anything but a sleepy little set Saturday as he packed a fair amount of swat with the suave.

Ferry’s band of six musicians and three singers proved equally adept at the variety of textural sound-scapes of Ferry’s recent material and at the rougher sounds of earlier songs, playing both with the economy and grace associated with latter-day Roxy.

Fever or no, Ferry gave an energetic performance, using facial expressions and body English to dramatize the emotions of the songs. As well, his rich, quavering voice--though slightly diminished due to his cold--is today a more expressive instrument than ever.

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It’s a good bet that the next time Ferry comes to town, be it six months or another six years, he won’t have found a cure for his romantic affliction. Fortunately, ennui and anguish have rarely sounded so good.

The tour continues with stops Friday at San Diego State University’s Open Air Theatre and Sunday and next Monday at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles.


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