Roxy Music, 02 Arena, London
Thursday 10 February 2011
Only quite late on in the evening, somewhere between Bryan Ferry's plaintive whistle in "Jealous Guy" and the longed-for intro to "Virginia Plain", is Roxy Music's O2 audience roused to something like excitement. It's clearly a huge relief to Ferry, but it's the band's own fault: with as elegantly innovative a back catalogue as Roxy's, this should have been a torrent of exuberant memories, but for substantial portions of the set the longueurs are alleviated only by the consistently exciting guitar work of Phil Manzanera, as the band leads us around some of the less sparkling corners of their history. It's like going through a photo album and finding several of the most important snapshots missing: where are "Ladytron", "Both Ends Burning", "Dance Away", "Pyjamarama"?
A dash through "Street Life" gives the show some early pep, the lamé-clad go-go dancers frugging for all they're worth on raised podia behind the band, but the set soon bogs down in a few too many undistinguished numbers before "In Every Dream Home a Heartache" reminds us of how eerily individual and sonically revolutionary they once were. A love-song to a blow-up sex-doll, this was a daringly evocative expression of alienation when first released into a 1970s musical landscape dominated by disco, metal and country-rock; but tonight it sounds just as out of place among the later, besuited Roxy material, confirming how swiftly the band headed towards the mainstream following Eno's departure.
Clad in suits of understated elegance, the band are largely immobile save for the occasional flourish from Manzanera or reedsman Andy Mackay; by default, one's attention focuses on the giant backdrops on which elements of the live performance are ingeniously incorporated into lavish montages evocative of the individual songs: old Western maps and moustachioed cowboys for "Prairie Rose", New York night-time cityscape and Hollywood icons for "To Turn You On", and Turner-esque naval turmoil for a cover of Neil Young's "Like a Hurricane". A similar montage of still-life canvases, however, simply brings home how static the music sounds. But with their own visages colour-tinted to match, and smokily blended in among the visual imagery, it's a clever means of disguising the fact that the band members themselves are no oil paintings these days.
Eventually, the set comes good with a home-stretch sprint through "Virginia Plain", "Love is the Drug", "Editions of You" and "Do the Strand", before a lengthy "For Your Pleasure" allows each musician to wave farewell individually, before the house lights are abruptly turned on, pre-empting any calls for an encore. Not that there were many, to be honest.
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