Saturday, 30 April 2016
Bryan Ferry returned to London last week for the first of two nights at the Palladium. The gig was an especially anticipated event in light of 2015’s postponed Royal Albert Hall show, in which a throat infection caused Ferry to cancel the performance just moments before he was due on stage. However, the inevitable disappointment that was experienced by fans as a result of the abrupt cancellation was outweighed by concern, especially following news that the remaining leg of UK tour dates had also been cancelled. Fans were therefore both relieved and thrilled following the announcement that the Albert Hall show would be rescheduled by way of two dates at the equally iconic setting that is the London Palladium.
Ferry opened the set with the intensely atmospheric title track from current album Avonmore. This was surprisingly the only song — albeit one of the strongest — from the 2014 record to appear in the set, despite the current tour being in support of this latest release. The overall absence of Ferry’s recent solo material, however, was evident, particularly in the first half of the performance — which I found to be somewhat lacking, and could have benefited from Avonmore’s lead single ‘Loop De Li’, or the much loved ‘Reason or Rhyme’ from 2010’s Olympia. As it is, Olympia was completely absent, and much missed, from the set. That being said, Ferry did touch on the early Roxy Music catalogue, treating the crowd to classics such as For Your Pleasure’s ‘Beauty Queen’, while later in the gig delivering a greatly received rendition of ‘Virginia Plain’ from Roxy Music’s self-titled debut.
The second half of the set had a greater sense of fluency in terms of track selection, while Ferry’s vocals showed increasing strength and clarity as the night progressed, though were also further enhanced by backing vocalists Fonzi Thornton and Bobbie Gordon. A beautifully extended version of ‘Tara’ not only highlighted the fantastic musicianship of saxophone and keys player Jorja Chalmers, but also marked the first of a generous six tracks from 1982’s Avalon. With Avalon being my favourite Roxy Music album, I am probably biased in concluding that these songs were among the most enjoyable of the performance, however, the rarely-played ‘While My Heart is Still Beating’ and ‘The Space Between’, in addition to a full-band version of ‘More Than This’, were defining moments in the set, with the latter bringing the seated audience to their feet in appreciation.
Ferry and his band were on top form throughout the performance, and the acoustics in the Palladium could not be faulted, however, many of the songs were considerably shortened. While this technique allows for the inclusion of more songs, in this instance, it resulted in parts of the set feeling rushed and the lingering sense that many tracks were over before they had really begun. The reduction in song length is even more apparent when compared to Ferry’s last tour in support of 2012’s The Jazz Age — which featured a set that superbly transitioned from an orchestral-led performance to Ferry’s regular tour band, all the while allowing Ferry’s band to fully showcase the extent of their musicianship by way of spacious intros and guitar solos.
However, in respect of an extensive catalogue spanning both solo material and his career as part of Roxy Music, Ferry always succeeds in compiling varied setlists that include a healthy balance of both crowd-pleasing hits and rarities. While there was an obvious lack in recent solo material throughout this performance, the crowd were treated to unexpected songs from Ferry’s earlier solo work, such as Mamouna’s ‘The 39 Steps’ and the title track from Bête Noire. Furthermore, it was a joy to hear so much early Roxy Music material in one set, most memorably a rousing rendition of ‘Do the Strand’, that was perfectly placed among the gig’s finale of fan favourites like ‘Love is the Drug’ and ‘Let’s Stick Together’. The excitement proved too much for one fan who invaded the stage during these final moments. An unfazed Ferry carried on as if nothing happened, before effortlessly drawing the night to a close with ‘Jealous Guy’.