A FAN’S NOTES
Bryan Ferry Live in
The year was 1982. Roxy Music had hit the North American big time with Avalon which would prove to be their final, full-length studio swan song. I remember walking along
Boulevard, tickets for the group’s Montreal Forum
show tucked into the pocket of my leather jacket, maybe my brown one, maybe my
black one, I can’t remember. I was wearing Levi’s. There was no snow on the
ground. I fell in behind a group of guys with elaborate hairdos, each resplendent
in a solid pastel suit, the colours accentuating, complementing their mates'.
Roxy Music was glam, avant-garde, ground-breaking, sultry, louche, manic. Out there,
in a permanent
phase. Following the glamour boys I thought, “Wow, hardcore fans, dressing up
like that.” An hour later they were on stage as Modern English performing ‘I
Melt with You.’ And then Bryan Ferry fronting Roxy Music came on. Berlin
Wednesday afternoon Ann and I drove the sports car westbound on the Whitemud. We passed
’s ring road and then the freeway
frittered itself away into a maze of concrete barriers and NO ENTRY signs. A
hard left and we arrived at the River Cree Resort, a well-appointed and
curiously cheerful casino attached to a Marriott Courtyard on Treaty Six land. This
time I was wearing L.L. Bean jeans and some sort of Costco retro-vintage,
three-button t-shirt. Edmonton
In the rear of the complex and out of sight is a permanent, temporary structure, The Venue at River Cree. A taut pavilion on a concrete pad supported by steel studs and fed with as much electricity and alcohol as required. Folding chairs, with section letters and row numbers taped to the smooth floor. Bryan Ferry was to perform beyond our city’s limits this night in a place an occupying army might erect.
Nineteen eighty-two to 2017, 35 years, that’s the longest I’ve gone between a hero’s gigs. Ferry’s support act this time was Judith Owen. Witty and dramatic, she would slay headlining a club where the patrons had paid to see her and her band. On before Ferry, she was doomed to be seen as just another delay before the legend’s entrance. There was an indifferent drinkers’ din in the back of the room.
Prior to the concert, I had big plans. I would bump into Ferry somewhere in the hotel or casino and then be helpful, writing out his set list for him. I’d tell him to perform a show of mixed thirds, solo, Roxy and covers. He would thank me for my valued input.
Ferry walked on stage sporting a black suit jacket and a white dress shirt with the top two or three buttons undone. There was some grey in that famous black haircut. I imagined James Bond gone slightly to seed, intent on killing audiences rather than enemy agents. Ann leaned over, “He just drips cool.” And a charisma enhanced by dramatic poses and flourishing, emotive arms and hands, much communication in a motion. And sweat. The human heat and the lights made the tent a little closer. There was a smell. Usually backlit by a wall of uniform colour, the suave silhouette seductively led his audience up the stairs to his Dorian Gray attic. I consciously averted my eyes from the video screens to the left and right of the stage. Ferry was right there before us, actual human-sized, to scale, and I wanted the illusion to be real.
Walking onto the stage Ferry immediately switched to glide with ‘The Main Thing’ and ‘Slave to Love.’ I guessed there had to be a Dylan cover since Ferry has recorded an entire album and more of His Bobness. ‘Simple Twist of Fate’ proved me right. The middle portion featured the welcome surprise of ‘In Every Dream Home a Heartache’ from For Your Pleasure, Roxy’s second release dating back to 1973. I’d read (falsely) that Roxy guitarist Phil Manzanera was part of Ferry’s band for this tour. His substitute was the equally legendary Chris Spedding who shredded a searing version of Neil Young’s ‘Like a Hurricane,’ another left field song in the set I didn’t dare hope to hear.
Ann and I matched the crowd demographic, mostly middle-aged couples. She noted something I didn’t pick up on, that one partner was hardcore while their mate was more of an incidental fan, a taste gap that’s rare at a rock concert. The climax of the concert was sustained as Ferry fed off the frenzy of an audience trying to remember how to rush the stage, cognizant of dodgy knees and bad hips. ‘Can’t Let Go’ quickly led into ‘More Than This’ and ‘Avalon.’ ‘Love Is the Drug’ preceded ‘
Tucked somewhere within the assault was Lennon’s ‘Jealous Guy.’ The evening
ended with the frantic, stone soul classic ‘Hold On (I’m Coming)’ by Sam and
Dave. Virginia Plain
The show cannot go on forever. Concertgoers understand rusty or fading chops. Indeed, Ferry left some of his signature lines to his better equipped hired help. But our memories for an artist like Bryan Ferry are long. So a show can sometimes become about what it was not. I missed ‘Mother of Pearl,’ ‘When She Walks In the Room,’ ‘Oh Yeah,’ ‘To Turn You On’ and ‘Take Me to the River.’ If we’d met at the resort, those are the songs I’d have demanded Ferry play. And as he sauntered away bemused because I’m basically harmless I would have shouted, “And ‘In the Midnight Hour’ too!”