Roxy Music, Nottingham Arena

A bunch of zealous guys
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The Independent Culture

The backing tape plays a mournful melody, "Avalon'' by way of Elgar and Williams. Projected on to the stage curtain the Roxy Coat-of-Arms, a double-headed phoenix rising from a laurel wreath, is more emblematic of an old European empire than a rock'n'roll band.

But then, after what seems an eternity, they're there, blasting away preconceptions with a giddy, unhinged "2HB" from their début album. Out front, the triumvirate who represent the re-formed Roxy Music: Phil Manzanera, gold lamé waistcoat, snake hips and searing guitar; Andy McKay in purple suit sporting a middle-aged paunch and playing wonderfully rude and toxic backs and clarinet. Then the old trouper himself, lounge lizard supreme, a benchmark for sophistication in silver Elvis jacket, it's Mr Bryan Ferry. But this is a Ferry who hasn't been seen for a long time. A man caught in a sonic whirlwind, re-energised by the sound of a band with few peers and even fewer antecedents in Brit rock history.

As he sings the lines "I tried and I tried but I could not find a way,'' it sounds like an explicit admission. Despite the years spent as lovelorn poster boy for the high life, nothing beats this.

The reunion may be just an exercise in nostalgia but for the band it's also a profound display of musical excellence. Some choices are surprising but welcome, drawn from unexpected parts of their canon. Additional members compensate for the absence of Brian Eno's genius but a large part of why they sound so good must be down to long-standing drummer, the great Paul Thompson. Barely recognisable from the sylph-like figure who adorned their Seventies' album sleeves, his playing is unmistakable, providing poised heartbeat and pulverising drive.

There are longueurs, however: over fussy arrangements for "When You Were Young" and "Editions of You" and intermissions to allow Ferry's costume changes. He dons the inevitable tuxedo before "A Song for Europe" which is delivered with a poignant mixture of Edith Piaf vibrato and tearful refinement. The song's ennui spoke directly to the subdued and regimented audience. "There's no today for us/nothing to share but yesterday.''

It wasn't until musical director and second guitarist Chris Spedding introduced "Same Old Song" that signs of life could be spotted in the aisles. Ferry's repeated hand-clapping exhortations eventually brought the crowd to their feet. The tumescent atmosphere that thrived in their heyday was barely discernible; the flashing Deely Boppers worn by one reveller not quite capturing the elegance to which Roxy once aspired.

Roxy Music play Birmingham tonight and tomorrow. Then touring to Sheffield (19 Jun) and Wembley (22-24 Jun)

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