Words: Patty Riek. All photos: Jon Bauer
Celebrating the 1972 release of their eponymous album, Roxy Music’s 50th Anniversary Tour came to San Francisco’s Chase Center Monday, September 26.
Guests arrive to see a mid stage fabric backdrop of stylized buildings flanked by wrought iron lighting scaffolds. A bright green piano center stage and warm mood lighting evoked a cozy French cabaret for the genre-bending opener, St. Vincent. With a four piece band, three singers, and a “waitress” who dropped off guitars and a drink for St. Vincent to toast Bryan Ferry’s birthday, the band delivered a sexy start to the evening.
With music that was part crunchy guitar, part funk, part soul, part pop, St. Vincent and her team used understated dance moves coupled with dramatic scenes (a mock guitar fight) to highlight the same extremes in her music. St. Vincent sang “New York” while engaging with delighted fans on the floor. Fist bumping and complimenting the “dapper” sartorial choices of the San Francisco audience, she borrowed a leopard print hat from a fan to augment her own stylish attire. Duly engaged, the audience reciprocated her energy.
During the break, the backdrop was removed revealing nine screens from near stage to near ceiling. Roxy Music’s focus on the visual is no surprise: Ferry and Mackay named their band after a movie theater.
The ever debonair Bryan Ferry took the stage and led opener “Re-Make/Re-Model.” While Ferry has toured the past few years, and Ferry, Mackay, Manzanera played together when inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2019, the 2022 tour is the first time they have all been on stage together in 11 years. Their musical chemistry has not suffered. While Brian Eno is not touring with Roxy Music, his influence was evidenced by the layers and textures of the songs which were further enhanced by three backup singers and seven other musicians.
Throughout the 18-song show, a series of images was projected on the screens. Some were abstract, some suggested water colors, others were more realistic. The divisions between the screens, the layering of images—the current musicians on stage captured by a camera on a track slider, pictures of the younger Ferry, Mackay, Manzanera, and Thompson—embodied a “sound and vision” aesthetic.
In a haunting rendition of “Ladytron,” Mackay’s oboe sounded like a singer. Ferry’s vocals entered and space ships floated across the scene as the camera tightly focused on Manzanera playing guitar. The superimposed images depicted bright lights emanating from Manzanera’s playing—not that he needed the visual enhancement.
The background images to “Oh Yeah” were more literal, with a car driving along a rainy road into the gloaming. After which the audience sang “Happy Birthday” to Ferry. Feeling nostalgic, Ferry commented that the songs “take you back to where it all started” as a segue to “If There is Something.” Ferry crooning “Lift up your feet and put them on the ground/You used to walk upon (when you were young)” obviously conveys a more nuanced meaning in 2022 than in 1972 to longtime fans.
The rhythmic and ever present background of Thompson’s drums commanded direct attention in “In Every Dream Home a Heartache.” Thompson and Mazanera sonically echoed a heartache, so much so that someone in the audience exhaled “WOW” when the song ended.
Ferry generally downplayed birthday wishes from fans until just before “Editions of You” when he acknowledged, “It’s my birthday!” And, as the lyrics point out, “Who knows what tomorrow might bring?”
It’s hard not to feel nostalgic with Ferry, Mackay, Manzanera, Thompson, and a good bit of the audience squarely in life’s second half. During “Avalon” singer Phoebe Edwards reaches for the high notes, rounding out Ferry’s iconic voice reminding us “the picture is changing every moment And your destination, you don’t know it.”
Earlier shows on this tour closed with John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy.” While Roxy Music’s version is arguably one of the best, critics questioned why they didn’t round things out with a powerhouse selection from their impressive oeuvre. In a changeup, Monday’s show closed with “Do the Strand” backed with images of David Bowie, noir-ish taloned ladies, and a kaleidoscopic image of a Grecian Urn. Art transcends time and Roxy Music’s songs will have Ferry the “happy melodist, unwearied,/For ever piping songs for ever new.”
A 50th anniversary tour invites retrospection. Starting out as a part glam rock part art rock band, Roxy Music matured into a melange of pop, jazz, ambient, highlighting how musical styles are influenced by the past and in turn, influence a new generation of musicians; St. Vincent and her band reap the musical history sowed by Roxy Music. Written decades ago, Roxy Music’s songs continue to resonate. Always the masters of juxtaposition, moments of introspection were balanced with the chance to “Dance on moonbeams/and slide on rainbows.”