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Bryan Ferry more himself than ever at opera house

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(Tom Cruze/Sun-Times)


Why is Bryan Ferry so unassailably cool as an interpretive singer while someone of the same vintage like, say, Rod Stewart is so easy to malign and make fun of?

It's all a matter of taste, and Ferry's remains impeccable. At 66, he glides on stage with a polished, professional 12-piece band and spices his set with Motown covers, Bob Dylan songs and other material that fits him like his smart suits. Ferry was a classy old man even as a twentysomething in the early Roxy Music days, when he was already moonlighting as a solo artist and turning a 1973 debut featuring singular renditions of songs by Goffin-King, Leiber-Stoller and Lennon-McCartney. The debonair "Casanova" that grooved Tuesday night on the stage of Chicago's Civic Opera House still appeared utterly in his element, maybe moreso. Stewart and similar hacks struggled to play grown-up too fast too late ("Great American Songbook," shudder), and Rod's suits are too often, well, purple.

Ferry may be the genre-smudging interpreter for rock and pop that Nina Simone was for rock and jazz. Both have spun gold from Dylan's catalog, and Ferry came alive early in the two-hour set Tuesday when tackling "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues," huffing his own harmonica solos among guitar licks traded between longtime collaborator Chris Spedding, 67, and Oliver Thompson, 23. Ferry was most often animated while in interpretive mode, careening into an intermission with a stormy run through Neil Young's "Like a Hurricane," dancing like a fool through Wilbert Harrison's "Let's Stick Together" (practically a signature theme for Ferry by now), moaning a bright-eyed "Jealous Guy" (ditto) and pumping his fist to finish with Sam & Dave's "Hold On (I'm Coming)."

All the while, he's still a rake. Surrounded with trademark feminine imagery -- frequent video of delicate models behind him, brassy backup singers, two go-go dancers (only at a Bryan Ferry show would two scantily clad, gyrating women seem to add a touch of class), even some woman's breathless visage on the bass drum head -- Ferry largely ignored his latest album, last year's "Olympia," and crooned numerous old, randy Roxy classics such as "Avalon" and "Casanova" (he looked so bored for both) and nice surprises such as "Editions of You" (he had a ball, dancing as if he were on "Laugh-In"), reminding us that even in his own material he's putting on airs, acting, interpreting. What other son of a British coal miner could so easily get away with singing "t'aint no big thing" ("Love Is the Drug") or the melodramatic German lines of "Bittersweet"? He's a smooth talker, that Ferry -- even or maybe especially now -- and the women were first on their feet Tuesday night to dance in the opera house aisles.


Bryan Ferry's set list Tuesday night:

"The Main Thing"
"I Put a Spell on You"
"Slave to Love"
"Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues"
"Don't Stop the Dance"
"If There Is Something"
"Make You Feel My Love"
"Casanova"
"Boys and Girls"
"Oh Yeah"
"Like a Hurricane"
Intermission
"Tara"
"Bittersweet"
"You Can Dance"
"Reason or Rhyme"
"Avalon"
"My Only Love"
"Love Is the Drug"
"Editions of You"
"Let's Stay Together"
Encore:
"Jealous Guy"
"Hold On (I'm Coming)"

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This page contains a single entry by Thomas Conner published on October 12, 2011 1:02 AM.

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