Sunday, August 6, 2017

Concert Review: Bryan Ferry at the Palace Theatre in Saint Paul

Bryan Ferry on stage at the Palace Theatre, Saint Paul, August 5, 2017. (Photo by Pondie.)

Marquee of the Palace Theatre in Saint Paul. (Photo by Mark C. Taylor)
Last night I saw one of my favorite musicians live at the Palace Theatre in Saint Paul: Bryan Ferry. I’ve been a fan of Ferry’s music, both solo and with Roxy Music, for several years, and he’s been at the top of my list of artists that I hadn’t seen in concert yet. Ferry didn’t disappoint, bringing a set list full of gems from his formidable back catalogue. At age 71, Ferry still looks dapper, stylish and handsome as ever. He didn’t say much during the concert, and the closest he got to telling any stories was saying, “These songs are from here, there, and everywhere.” Ferry’s nine member band did a terrific job of re-creating tricky Roxy Music songs like “Ladytron” and “If There is Something.” Kudos to all of the band members, especially Jorja Chalmers, who handled saxophone duties, a job essential to capturing the sound of Roxy Music songs. 

Opening for Ferry was the British singer/songwriter Judith Owen, who played a half hour of songs that reminded me of Carole King’s work from the 1970’s. Owen was playing with bassist Leland Sklar, who has played on over 2,000 recordings, according to Wikipedia. Sklar has played on many of James Taylor’s albums, as well as albums by Leonard Cohen, Phil Collins, Neil Diamond, Neil Sedaka, Rod Stewart, and Barbra Streisand. Owen also featured a percussionist, cello, and violin, which lent her songs an engaging sound. Fun fact: Judith Owen is married to Harry Shearer, well known for playing bassist Derek Smalls in This is Spinal Tap and for voicing numerous characters on The Simpsons.

Ferry played keyboards on quite a few songs, and also blew some nice harmonica solos on a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Simple Twist of Fate,” and the old chestnut “Let’s Stick Together.” As a vocalist, Ferry still smolders effectively, even if he’s lost some of his top range-the high notes on “More than This” just aren’t quite there anymore. But Ferry’s voice still has great emotion in it, and his voice now adds a melancholy vulnerability to his songs. 

My only disappointment from the set list is that Ferry didn’t sing any of the songs from his most recent solo album, 2014’s excellent “Avonmore.” (Which I reviewed back in 2014 here.) Well, and if I’m being honest, there are some Roxy Music songs like “Over You,” “Dance Away,” and “Same Old Scene” that I would have loved to hear as well. But that’s a small quibble when you’re seeing a rock legend up close. I was a little surprised that Ferry sang “In Every Dream Home a Heartache,” which has to be the weirdest Roxy Music song. It’s a good song, but it is weird-it’s a critique of capitalism as Ferry gets a little too attached to a blow-up doll. The lyrics aren’t sung, but spoken like a prose poem. 

The Palace Theatre was a superb venue for Bryan Ferry, as its style of decaying glamor fits his own aesthetics quite well. The open seating on the floor meant that my wife and I were very close to Ferry, and it was fun to watch his facial expressions throughout the show. It’s very evident, for all of his British reserve, that he really enjoys what he does. Ferry seemed quite touched by the huge audience reaction at the end of the show, which he fully deserved. 

Set list:
The Main Thing
Slave to Love
Out of the Blue
Simple Twist of Fate
A Waste Land
BĂȘte Noire
Stronger Through the Years
Can’t Let Go
In Every Dream Home a Heartache
If There is Something
More than This
Love is the Drug
Virginia Plain
Let’s Stick Together
What Goes On
Jealous Guy
Editions of You

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