Launching his first U.S. concert tour in nearly a decade, music icon Bryan Ferry did not disappoint a standing-room-only New York crowd at the Beacon Theatre Thursday night. This year marks the 40th anniversary of his glam rock turned new romantic/New Wave band Roxy Music, genres its stylish frontman Ferry helped define. Given the eight years since a reunited Roxy toured US shores and nine since his last CD of original songs before the current “Olympia,” his cult-like following promises more sold-out dates on the tour, which wraps Oct. 15 at LA’s Greek Theatre.
The nearly two hour, 20-song set list was evenly divided between Ferry’s Roxy and solo tracks, displaying the same layered, moody musicianship found in all his painstakingly produced work. Standouts from his band included original Roxy drummer Paul Thompson, the fine lead guitarist Oliver Thompson and vet session guitarist Chris Spedding.
After entering to the strains of “India” from a generation’s favorite make-out album, “Avalon,” Ferry launched the evening with “The Main Thing” from the same 1982 Roxy CD.
The crowd was transported into one of his stylish videos thanks to the huge video screen with changing imagery behind him (impressively assembled by Anna Boberg), his two go-go/voguing dancers, and a characteristically suit-and-tied Ferry. As on earlier tours, he conjures a world that would seem like so much posing with a weaker vocalist, songwriter or backing band, yet Ferry manages to seem unpretentious despite the pretensions much of his catalog simultaneously relies on and slyly parodies.
“I hope you like the collection of songs. Some of you will know them well, others not so much,” Ferry said before launching into the country-tinged “If There is Something” from Roxy’s 1973 debut LP.
It was one of many album tracks in a night that aimed to rediscover overlooked gems from Ferry’s original solo work (“Boys and Girls”), Roxy’s slate (“Casanova,” “Bitter-Sweet,” “My Only Love,” the beautifully extended instrumental “Tara”), and both of their famous covers (“Let’s Stick Together,” “Like a Hurricane” with a smart new backbeat, and three from “Dylanesque,” including the standout “Make You Feel My Love”). The approach paid off best with one of the most romantic songs of its era, “To Turn You On” from “Avalon,” as floating New York imagery made the locals swoon.
There were still plenty of hits — Roxy’s signature “Love is the Drug,” “More Than This” and “Avalon” among them. If show had a flaw, it was Ferry playing lesser Olympia tracks (“Reason or Rhyme” and the cluttered, unfortunate choice for its first single, “You Can Dance”) instead of its two standouts, “Shameless” and the Tim Buckley cover “Song to the Siren.” Ferry’s voice, however — after a few shaky live TV appearances in the last decade — sounded about as strong as ever.
Aside from the rarities, the biggest surprise of the night was Ferry spending a good deal of the concert behind the keyboard, letting soloists like sax player Jorja Chalmers take the lead. Their musicianship was never overshadowed by the show’s fine art direction.
The always aggressively stylish Ferry still managed several moments of the suave posing that reminded one he was once considered for the role of James Bond. If the twentysomething couple humming his songs and slow dancing on a subway platform after the show was any indication, he could easily return as an even more elder statesman for many tours to come.