SCHENECTADY — Roadblocks, utility trucks, police lights: how dodgy can showtime get? Expectations felt both high and fragile on Thursday before Bryan Ferry made tremendously dramatic, majestic, masterly Brit-rock at Proctors: big music in the hands of a veteran entertainer and terrific band.
Judith Owen opened in Kate Bush/art-pop style with an elegant quartet (strings and percussion) anchored by bassist Leland Sklar, last seen at Proctors decades ago with James Taylor.
Quirky-confident, she sang in a clear, strong voice as songs rose, fell and detoured unpredictably and to fresh effect. “The Age of Aquarius” was her biggest detour, an edgy deconstruction that closed her well-received set.
Ferry took over at 9: a well-tailored, reserved persona as British as Ray Davies or Prince Charles. Seven players and two singers blew “The Main Thing” up into a groove juggernaut, phat as Steely Dan. “Slave to Love” felt just as big; “Ladytron” even bigger on wings of sax and guitar.
The 100-minute set surged on waves of tempo — mostly mid-speed or slower, rocking at the end — and texture — dense, mostly, richly layered, with few solos peeking over the flow.
Ferry nudged his croon back from the edge of a sob, conveying strength even amid major misery. If there’s a sadder song anywhere than “In Every Dream Home A Heartbreak,” 16th of 24 songs on Thursday, I’m not sure I could take it. This cry brought down the house. Avoiding flash in his delivery emphasized how beautifully he uses ambiguity as a blank screen in his writing, so listeners could project their own feelings onto his tunes. Does the couplet “More than this, there is nothing” extoll something wonderful, bemoan its inadequacy, or both?
Late Roxy Music and Ferry solo records set the bar high for sumptuous expressionism; tough to echo onstage, though Ferry’s crew managed this easily. The insistent, humming throb of Neil Jason’s bass, notes all fuzzy, built the sound from the bottom up. Chiming between Jason’s soft boom with drummer Luke Bullens’ relentless clatter underneath, and spicy decorations up top from Jorja Chalmers’s saxes and Marina Moore’s violin or viola, rode Christian Gulino’s keyboards (and sometimes Ferry’s) and two strong guitars. They felt face value (fiery, flashy) from young Jacob Ouistgard andand ironic, in the groove but also commenting, from veteran Chris Spedding, a Ferry contemporary. Spedding seldom soloed, but delivered thunderstorms in Neil Young’s “Like a Hurricane.”
For all the deep, polished sophistication of his mood songs — some sought and reached real splendor, “Dream Home,” especially, but also “Take A Chance On Me” — uptempo tunes revved like the crash and burn of early Mott the Hoople.
The ending and encores lit up the place, the boomer-age crowd long since on their feet, in it all the way. A majestic “More Than This” simmered into the adagio mists of “Avalon,” then came the insistent, driving torment of “Love Is the Drug” and a reach back to first-album Roxy Music for “Virginia Plain” with the same dancey momentum.
Ferry barely left before sweeping back onstage to cue up Wilbert Harrison’s love anthem “Let’s Stick Together.” Knocking the drama of John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy” out of the park, he kept pedal to the metal with “Editions of You.” It gave what its lyrics promised: “Their crazy music drives you insane, this way.” Yeah, this way.
“I feel bad for anybody who wasn’t here tonight,” said a departing fan. Ferry’s deep-mood majesty made Schenectady the hippest town around, made us feel all the cool kids were there.
Reach Michael Hochanadel at [email protected]
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