Roxy Music, ExCel centre, London

Ferry's croak turns into a croon as Roxy style it up
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

After a shaky start and some mid-set tedium, Roxy Music proved they might have something to offer today's music scene.

While early albums remain an undoubted influence on the likes of Franz Ferdinand and Jarvis Cocker, their choice of venue gave a clue as to the band's current standing. It was a stretch of tarmac outside the Docklands' site of the British International Motor Show.

Indeed, the predominance of middle-aged couples suggested a generation reliving their youth when they played Roxy's later yuppie seduction soundtracks in less practical cars than they own today. This audience was not disappointed by the group's greatest hits set, though there were enough surprises for fans of their art-rock early days.

This period has been brought to mind by news that the former Roxy keyboardist, Brian Eno, had worked with the band on recent recording sessions - their first collaboration since the early Seventies. Just in the nick of time, for even before the band reformed in 2001, their music had been overshadowed by Bryan Ferry's country gent image. He was even upstaged by his son, Otis, prosecuted for his Commons protest against the fox-hunting ban last year.

Eno originally denied being back on the scene and declined to appear live, which left Ferry, the guitarist Phil Manzanera and the sax/oboe player Andy Mackay, as drummer Phil Thompson was ill. The singer croaked his way through their opening numbers, though soon regained his legendary poise. Ferry's louche croon was in full effect, and with age was more plaintive than ever on "Jealous Guy".

His bandmates, meanwhile, showed Roxy's elegance extended beyond the sartorial, with a succession of rich yet understated arrangements. Manzanera played with clipped precision and rarely has an oboe sounded as haunting as on the debut album highlight "Ladytron". There were, sadly, too many solos as the group morphed into a Ferry, Manzanera, Mackay supergroup with each taking equal time in the spotlight.

The daft horror story "Bogus Man" faded away too slowly in a morass of noodling. It was impossible to work out why two extra guitarists were among the array of additional performers - "My Only Love" came with a trio of unnecessary solos. Such extraneous instrumentation was generally reserved for the set's middle third.

Roxy rallied with a forceful finale that returned them to their superb second album For Your Pleasure. They hammered home "Editions Of You" with the intensity to suggest they had predated post-Punk's dance fixation by several years, before Ferry put on his campest persona for an exuberant "Do The Strand".

Without any new material on show, the sheer joy the band displayed during such moments was promising, compared to the flat delivery of numbers from their smooth Eighties period. It suggested they may finally loosen their ties on next year's album, their first since 1982. Roxy Music are rocking once more.