The often enigmatic and always stylish British band Roxy Music wrapped up their US tour at the Kia Forum in Los Angeles. The tour marked the band’s 50th anniversary and the string of dates was the band’s first time performing on stage since 2011.
Roxy Music was never fully embraced by the mainstream record-buying public, as their music did not fit easily into one genre. Nevertheless, the band was fervently maintained by a sizable fan base. The group’s debut album was a solid ancestor of art rock. But Roxy Music would probably prefer not to be stuck with a label. They were perhaps most responsible for launching glam rock in the 1970s and they certainly presaged the dapper New Romantics of a decade. Roxy Music was one of the first bands to maintain a certain look through their albums, stage presence and promotional material. The band’s visual component was no doubt due to the members’ art school background, but the music was impressive and timeless enough. Many observers consider the Beatles, David Bowie and Roxy Music to be the most influential British musical artists, due to their sophistication in musical and visual presentation.
Through the group’s various permutations, Bryan Ferry (vocals), Andy Mackay (saxophone) and Phil Manzanera (guitar) have been the only permanent members of Roxy Music – and their founding role was evident on stage. The trio headed for the strains of the infectious instrumental “India.”
With one of the most distinctive vocal styles of their time, Ferry subtly and naturally dropped registers on some of the band’s most high-end songs. As the band found their groove, McKay’s lone tenor ushered in “In Every Dream a Heartache”, one of many songs that perfectly captures the band’s ethos. The song received a particularly moody rendition until Manzanera unleashed his whammy bar and delivered a torrent of guitar pyrotechnics. Her scintillating leads skated effortlessly through many of the evening’s arrangements. Ferry, the band’s dominant songwriter, has always been fascinated by the scale and glamor of the film industry, so it was fitting to end the US tour in Los Angeles. The cleanly designed stage set featured multiple angular screens, subtly evoking the oversized marvel of vintage Hollywood movie palaces.
“Oh Yeah,” with its lavish chorus and accompanying visuals, captured the wide California desert roads. Ferry took the song to a boldly delicate ending.
How can we lead to a movie show
When the music is there in my car
There’s a band playing on the radio
To the rhythm of guitar rhymes
They play Oh Yeah on the radio
Throughout the evening, the band’s setlist shrewdly modulated the dynamic – a strategy likely attributable to founding member Brian Eno, who left Roxy Music three years after its inception. Eno admitted he needed to leave the band when he found himself on stage thinking he had to do his laundry. He continued to forge ground as a producer, teasing the incredible work of Bowie, Talking Heads, Devo and U2 among many others.
The final third show was marked by the pairing of “To Turn You On” and “Dance Away”. The choruses of “I’d do anything to turn you on” followed by “dance away from the heartache” probably best capture the band’s perspective over the decades. The potential for romance and the seeming inevitability of heartbreak lingers through their canon. For the latter song, the UK version of the single was shown spinning on the extravagant split video screens as the cameramen swapped between close-ups of each band member.
“More Than This” (the band’s most popular track) and a superb rendition of “Avalon” signaled the band rounding the pavilion bend near the end of the show. The stage – bathed mostly in deep blue lighting – amplified the reverie of the self-titled album. Avalon was the band’s eighth and final album and placed more songs on the setlist than any other. It was a fitting tribute to the album that crowned the band’s career on an impressive note.
“Love Is the Drug” was understandably the biggest crowd pleaser. The upbeat hit of 1975 paved the way for many new wave artists.
Nonetheless, it was a great production, worthy of a band that had its eye on visuals before many others. Ferry has been consistent over the past five decades in his suave, yet jaded demeanor (disclaiming his upbringing as the son of a coal miner). On stage, the band skillfully supported Ferry’s debonair persona. He rarely spoke, letting the songs deliver his perspective on relationships. This year marks a year of celebration for Roxy Music in addition to the reunion tour
Each of their eight studio albums is set to be reissued in special anniversary editions. The expected elegance of these reissues will hopefully draw more attention to the band’s deserved notoriety.
Either way, the 10-date US tour ended with a bang in Los Angeles, cementing Roxy Music’s massive creative influence over the past half-century.
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