Many moments of singer Bryan Ferry’s performance last night at the State Theatre veered toward New Age. With the cooing backing vocals and sprinkles of saxophone and oboe, Ferry and his nine-piece band ventured dangerously close to embracing the somnambulistic jazz-rock fusion that became popular in the '80s.
And yet, the 71-year-old Ferry, who looked dashing in his dapper black suit, performed with such refined restraint that his distinctive aura kept the two-hour show from becoming a snooze.
“It’s good to be back in Cleveland,” Ferry said at the show’s start. “Cleveland and I go back a long way,” he said later in the show. The near-capacity crowd responded with a roar of approval every time he mentioned the city and clearly acknowledged the significance of the band’s first show here in five years.
Ferry alternated between playing solo hits like “Slave to Love” and Roxy tunes such as “Beauty Queen.” The set included a handful of covers too, and Ferry’s rendition of Neil Young’s “Like a Hurricane” captured the song’s theme of reckless love even though Ferry delivered it in an understated manner. He turned the Rodgers & Hart tune “Where or When” into something ominous as he sat the piano and practically whispered the vocals to the tune.
Throughout it all, guitarists Chris Spedding and Jacob Quistgaard exchanged crisp licks, giving many songs a real edge. At times, Ferry’s voice became buried in the mix but for the most part, it held up well, and his distinctive croon sounded as sharp as ever.
Toward the end of the show, which featured more than 20 tunes, Ferry turned to the hits, delivering dreamy ballads such as “More Than This” and “Avalon” before busting into jittery Roxy Music tracks such as “Love is the Drug” and “Virginia Plain.” During the randy “Virginia Plain,” a tune that featured percolating old school synthesizers, Ferry loosened up and even turned his microphone to the audience at the song’s conclusion as he playfully asked, “What’s her name?”
The enduring appeal of Roxy Music’s sophisticated songs that, back in the day, seemed to anticipate glam rock as well as New Wave suggests that those finicky folks at the Rock Hall might want to reconsider the band’s exclusion from its hallowed halls. We’re guessing the enthusiastic crowd at last night’s show would agree with that assessment of the band’s significance.
Singer-songwriter Judith Owen immediately endeared herself by greeting the crowd with a “Hello Cleveland” as she began to play a 30-minute set of Norah Jones-like mellow jazz/pop tunes. As she explained, she had every right to use the phrase since her husband, Harry Shearer, plays a character in Spinal Tap
, the cult classic that spawned the expression. Her supple voice suited the material well, but songs such as “Somebody’s Child,” the title track from her latest album, came off as a little too precious.