The often enigmatic and consistently stylish British band Roxy Music closed out their U.S. tour at the Kia Forum in Los Angeles. The tour marked the band’s 50th anniversary, and the string of dates was the first time the band performed on stage since 2011.
Roxy Music was never fully embraced by the wider record-buying public, as their music did not slot easily into any single genre. Nonetheless, the band was held fervently close by a sufficiently sized fan base. The band’s first album was a solid progenitor of art rock. But Roxy Music would likely prefer not to be stuck with any label. They may be most responsible for launching glam rock in the 1970s and they certainly presaged the dapper New Romantics by a decade. Roxy Music were one of the first bands to maintain a certain look across their albums, stage presence and promotional materials. The visual component of the band was no doubt due to the members’ art school background, but the music was sufficiently impressive and timeless. Many observers look to the Beatles, David Bowie and Roxy Music as the most influential British musical artists, due to their sophistication in musical and visual presentation.
Across the band’s various permutations, Bryan Ferry (vocals), Andy Mackay (saxophone) and Phil Manzanera (guitar) have been the only permanent members of Roxy Music — and their seminal role was evident on stage. The trio strode out to the strains of the infectious instrumental “India.”
With one of the most distinctive vocal stylings of his time, Ferry subtly and understandably dropped the registers on a few of the band’s higher-ranged songs. As the band found its groove McKay’s lonely tenor signaled the start of “In Every Dream a Heartache,” one of several songs that crisply captures the band’s ethos. The song was given an especially moody rendition until Manzanera let loose on his whammy bar and delivered a torrent of guitar pyrotechnics. His shimmering leads skated effortlessly across many of the evening’s arrangements. Ferry, the band’s dominant songwriter, has always been fascinated by the sweep and glamor of the film business, so closing out the US tour in Los Angeles was appropriate. The cleanly designed stage set featured several angular screens, subtly evoking the oversized wonder of vintage Hollywood film palaces.
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“Oh Yeah,” with its sumptuous chorus and attendant visuals, captured the wide California desert roads. Ferry brought the song to daringly delicate denouement.
How can we drive to a movie show
When the music is here in my car
There’s a band playing on the radio
With a rhythm of rhyming guitars
They playing Oh Yeah on the radio
Throughout the evening, the band’s setlist modulated the dynamics astutely — a strategy probably attributable to founding member Brian Eno, who left Roxy Music three years after its inception. Eno admitted he needed to leave the band when he found himself onstage thinking about needing to do his laundry. He went on to forge ground as a producer, teasing out amazing work from Bowie, Talking Heads, Devo, and U2 among many others.
The final third show was marked by the pairing of “To Turn You On” and “Dance Away.” The refrains of “I’d do anything to turn you on” followed by “dance away the heartache” probably best capture the band’s viewpoint over the decades. The potential for romance and the seeming inevitability of heartbreak lingers through their canon. For the latter song, the UK version of the single was shown spinning on the extravagant split video screens as the cameramen swapped between close-ups of each band member.
“More Than This” (the band’s most popular tune) and a swimmingly beautiful rendition of “Avalon” signaled that the band was rounding the clubhouse turn toward the end of the show. The stage — washed mostly in deep blue lighting — amplified the dreaminess of the eponymous album. Avalon was the band’s eighth and final album and placed more songs on the setlist than any other. It was a fitting tribute to the album that capped the band’s career on an impressively high note.
“Love Is the Drug” was the biggest crowd pleaser, understandably. The upbeat 1975 hit paved the way for many a new wave artist.
Nonetheless, it was a grand production, befitting a band that had its eye on the visual aspect before many others. Ferry was consistent through the last five decades in his suave, yet jaded, demeanor (belying his upbringing as the son of a coal miner). Onstage, the band ably supported Ferry’s debonair persona. He spoke rarely, letting the songs deliver his perspective on relationships. This year marks a year of celebration for Roxy Music in addition to the reunion tour
Each of their eight studio albums are scheduled for reissue in special anniversary editions. The expected elegance of these reissues will hopefully draw further attention to the band’s deserved prominence.
In any event, the 10-date tour of America finished up in high style in L.A., reinforcing Roxy Music’s massive creative influence over the last half-century.