They’re coming back! The mostly original lineup of Roxy Music – Bryan Ferry, Phil Manzanera, Andy Mackay and Paul Thompson – announced last week UK and US shows to mark the 50th anniversary of the band’s 1972 self-titled debut.
Nothing has been said about an Australian tour yet (and let’s be honest, you wouldn’t want to be betting on it) but Wind Back Wednesday boldly goes to the first big reformation tour in 2001. A night of smug assumptions being knocked for six.
BUGGER. I CAME PREPARED TO BE BORED. I came prepared to sneer at comfortable late-middle-aged men playing parlour music to comfortable middle-aged men and women on their one night out for the month.
It seemed a fair enough assumption. After all, the people paying $25 for their glossy programs with lots of pictures but little of substance (after buying $80-plus tickets) were coming for Avalon, for More Than This, for songs that have kept 2WS-type stations in advertising dollars for two decades now. Ho-bleeding-hum.
But Roxy Music let me down: they were anything but boring. Even better, they were taking chances again. And taking chances is something that went out the window by the end of the '70s when everything became unbearably slick like Bryan Ferry's hair, saxophonist Andy Mackay was preparing the way for Kenny G and guitarist Phil Manzanera was hobbled by blandom.
Yet the band began the night with the ragged propulsion of Re-make/Re-model from the first Roxy Music album. It was arch and raw at the same time, Paul Thompson's drums making a rumbling demand on the senses and Manzanera and second guitarist Chris Spedding beginning a sparring that would enliven almost every song.
Soon Out Of The Blue was romping, and later the slow dramatic build of In Every Dream Home A Heartache exploded in its climax of anger and sleaze. This wasn't exactly art rock's legions unleashed - familiarity has lessened the initial shock of the early Roxy Music and the sound at times was too cluttered with two synths and a piano in there, too - but we were seeing a genuinely radical band still taking the line between noise and pop and blurring it.
Some of Manzanera's lines were less melodic than an insertion of a cold rod followed by a hot poker and you willed him on to letting loose while Mackay honked and squawked invitingly. Just as importantly, Ferry's highly mannered vocals preened and primped, the aural equivalent of a strutting dandy. Outside his croon he isn't a great singer but he is a flamboyant deliverer of a line.
For the annoyed man who, after half an hour of challenging material, yelled out "play something good" there were the middle-of-the-road moments of smooth (My Only Love, Avalon) and even a little jaunty (Oh Yeah!). But each time we veered to the middle this vehicle was swung back to the fringes such as the camp neo-Piaf A Song For Europe, a high-heeled-boots take on Virginia Plain and a rip snorting version of Mother of Pearl.
Just as the opening song said something about their intent, so did the closing number. After swaggering through The Strand they could have walked off on an easy high. Instead they pulled back for the decidedly odd - a stop-start rhythm, slightly "off" melody - and fascinating For Your Pleasure, a song for the brain, not the wallet.
A Roxy Music concert in 2001 wasn't meant to be this interesting.