Music: The flame still burns bright
A Review By Michael Wilk
Up close and personal with Roxy Music at Madison Square
I have been a fan of Roxy Music for 26 years but, alas,
never had the opportunity to see them perform, the band having
disbanded some 18 years ago. However, for my pleasure in my
present state, I had the opportunity to see this legendary,
hard-to-pigeonhole band perform at the Theater at Madison Square
Garden on Monday, July 23. Roxy Music made their entrance into
the rock music scene in 1971, a somewhat fallow time. Glam Rock
was a new thing at the time, but Roxy Music was something else.
Looking like escapees from a 1950s intergalactic high school
dance, dressed in black leather, leopard print, gold lame and
sequins, combined with very unusual and unorthodox musical arrangements
and lyrics, they were eclectic, witty, and bizarre.
Roxy Music (L-R)
Bryan Ferry, Andy Mackay, Phil Manzanera
Phil Manzanera's masterful, exciting guitar , Andy Mackay's
wailing sax and oboe, Paul Thompson's vigorous drumming, Brian
Eno's way-out synthesizer and tapes, and, of course, Bryan Ferry's
clever lyrics and matinee-idol crooning combined to make an
And their album covers! Gatefold album covers, adorned with
1940s-1950s style glamor girls, were real eye-candy-campy and
even slightly strange. Roxy Music was essentially the brainchild
of Bryan Ferry, a former art school student. The elegant Mr.
Ferry, who always reminded me of a cross between a heterosexual
Noel Coward and tragic romantic poet Ernest Dowson ("They are
not long, the days of wine and roses"), combined with Dirk Bogardeish
looks, wrote the group's songs, and oversaw the group's overall
visual aethetic, which included their garb, album covers, and
set designs when they performed.
Drawing from old movies, 1950s and 1960s pop music, fashion,
art, along with a strong sense of "camp" and irony, Ferry composed
witty, rocking, sentimental songs. RM's classic single, "Virginia
Plain", debuted in 1972, following on the heels of their first
album. "Virginia Plain" is a tribute to pop culture, with its
references to Warhol starlet Baby Jane Holzer, drive-ins, Las
Vegas casinos, drive-ins, and Studebakers. RM's second album,
"For Your Pleasure", is, in my opinion, their best. From its
film noirish album cover, featuring model Amanda Lear in a black
leather dress and stiletto heels walking a black panther against
a backdrop of a nighttime Las Vegas, to its songs, ranging from
the irresistibly upbeat "Do The Strand" and "Editions of You"
to the dark-themed "In Every Dream Home a Heartache", "The Bogus
Man" (a play on The Boogie Man?) and the eerily disturbing "For
Your Pleasure", it is an unforgettable album. Brian Eno left
the band after "Pleasure", presumably due to artistic differences
between him and Bryan Ferry.
RM's next two albums, "Stranded" and "Country Life", produced
the hits "Street Life", "Out of The Blue", "Mother of Pearl",
and "The Thrill of it All", continuing Ferry's vision of bittersweet
love and pleasure-with-a-price. RM started to inch a little
more towards mainstream, and became smoother and less esoteric.
In 1975, RM had a hit with the quasi-disco song "Love is the
Drug" from their album "Siren", which featured that long-stemmed
Yellow Rose of Texas Jerry Hall, then Ferry's girlfriend, on
the album cover as a Lorelei, posed on the rocky coast of Scotland.
RM progressed through "Manifesto", a techno-pop themed album,
and their last, "Avalon", is a velvet-smooth, dreamy, somewhat
reggae-themed album. Bryan Ferry, Phil Manzanera, and Andy Mackay
then pursued solo careers with reasonable success.
When the Roxy Music 2001 Reunion World Tour was announced, my
partner David purchased tickets for us, and were we delighted!
Mr. Ferry, who went through 3 costume changes (Black cire suit,
signature white dinner jacket, and Elvis-like silver lame suit),
was as charming and gracious as ever, never hogging the stage,
giving the musicians their due. The musicians, which included
original band members Manzanera, Mackay, and Thompson, as well
as Roxy newcomers Colin Good on keyboards, Chris Spedding on
guitar, Zev Katz on bass, Julia Thornton on percussion, Sarah
Brown on backup vocals, and Lucy Wilkins, who received a standing
ovation for her bravura violin solo on "Out of the Blue", as
well as her work on synthesizers and keyboards, were remarkable.
The set opened with "Re-Make, Re-Model", the first song from
RM's first album-a rocking, bizarre ditty, and continued through
the band's famous repertoire, which included the abovementioned
hits, as well as "Avalon", the haunting "My Only Love", the
spaced-out "Ladytron", "A Song for Europe", "Dance Away", and
"Both Ends Burning", and finishing with "Do the Strand" and
"For Your Pleasure", with each member of the group leaving the
stage, until only the whirring sounds of the synthesizer were
heard, making for a slighly disturbing finale.
The light show was first-rate, my favorite effect being the
rear-view projection of the insides of a lava lamp during "In
Every Dream Home a Heartache", that ode to homeowner's woes
and love for an inflatable doll. And the dancing girls! Four
luscious dancing girls, dressed as "Hullabaloo" dancers for
"Both Ends Burning", reappearing as Las Vegas showgirls in flaming
red costumes for "Do the Strand", added the classic Roxy Music
touch of Hollywood glamor.
In an age where post-pubescent "divas" compete with each other
on who can wear the least clothing or emote the loudest, and
where foul-mouthed brats can spew sexist, racist, and homophobic
lyrics in the name of "freedom of speech", it was a treat to
see and hear music that was erudite, fun, and thought-provoking,
like having lobster and champagne after a steady diet of Big
Macs and fries.
So, Bryan Ferry and company, my top hat's off to you-the magic
About the Author
Michael Wilk is a 44 year old graphic artist, and is employed
by the United State Postal Service in Manhattan, where he has
worked for the past 22 years. He lives in Howard Beach, Queens,
approximately 5 minutes away from JFK Airport.