Bryan Ferry cast a spell over New Orleans on Thursday night with his unmistakable musical incantations of love. In a world of sequins and tattered jeans, the 71 year old British gentleman still chooses to perform in couture-ish finery and an ambience of Sinatra elegance. Therefore playing in a theatre such as the Saenger as opposed to the concrete coldness of an arena only enhances the moods of some of Ferry’s most beloved songs, from “Avalon” to “Slave To Love” to “In Every Dream Home A Heartache.”
This was a night to be touched, and having the remarkable Judith Owen open the show was nothing short of genius. Her vocals and the limited instrumentation – Leland Sklar on bass, Pedro Segundo on percussion, Gabriella Swallow on cello and Owen herself on piano – tantalized and vibrated more than a screaming guitar ever could. One minute a soft, lilting tear-dropping composition in “Somebody’s Child,” from her 2016 album of the same name, to the nice jazzy beat groove of “Arianne,” if you weren’t intoxicated before by her music then you certainly were by the time she whipped out a finale of “Aquarius.”
Ferry was more than ready to pick up from there, adding a suave groove and some rock & roll elements himself into a twenty-plus songlist heavy on the Roxy Music of his past. Born in the north of England, Ferry has always been the dandy, crooning with a whispered tonality that has echoed for decades. Through the eras of grunge, hair metal and teeny-bop pop, he’s always been there staring the music world down with his style and delivery. So when Ferry walked out onto the stage, only three dates into his new tour, he was greeted with worshipful applause from fans anxious for anything he wanted to place into their hands.
With a stage full of musicians – including the legendary Chris Spedding on guitar and Neil Jason on bass – Ferry swayed and sometimes rocked through Roxy Music favorites like “Virginia Plain,” Editions Of You,” “Oh Yeah” and “More Than This.” He did a rousing version of Neil Young’s “Like A Hurricane” and an appropriate tribute to John Lennon with “Jealous Guy,” a song the band started performing after the former Beatle’s death in 1980. Barely pulling from his solo catalog, Ferry seduced with a smoky and sensual “Zamba,” a smooth “Slave To Love” and an almost forlorn “Bete Noire.”
Jorja Chalmers, an Australian saxophone player who has been performing with Ferry since 2007, is definitely his ace in the hole. Her way around melodies are lovely and enhance the music with a shiny soulfulness, oftentimes in accompaniment with Marina Moore’s violin, making “Tara” one of the most beautiful saddest songs you’ve ever heard.
Spedding, a highly respected session player who has known Ferry since the early seventies when the guitarist was in a band called Sharks with Free’s Andy Fraser, has several solo spotlights, soaring on the crescendo of “Like A Hurricane” and playing slide on “Both Ends Burning.” The rest of the fancy guitar footwork was left to the youngster, Jacob “Quist” Quistgaard, enjoying his moments on “Virginia Plain” and “Editions Of You.” Neil Jason, who played on several of the latter day Roxy Music albums, had a mini-bass solo in the middle of “Stronger Through The Years” and told me before the show it felt good to be playing these songs again.
Sitting through most of the show, the crowd jumped up for a standing ovation following “In Every Dream Home A Heartache” and never sat back down, choosing to dance during “More Than This” and “Avalon,” and showering their appreciation on the singer who was made a Commander Of The Most Excellent Order Of The British Empire in 2011. It is in these pure, heartfelt moments that you remember why you bought a ticket to see a man sing songs in a suit jacket – because sometimes all you need is a good song with good musicians.