This was the last time.
Most people don’t understand touring is a business. A band just doesn’t decide to go on the road and then see what happens… They evaluate the offers from promoters, is it enough to cover expenses and make a profit?
You might have seen the Santigold story the other day, she just can’t make the numbers work:
“Santigold Cancels North America Tour Due to ‘Devastating’ Costs and ‘Flood’ of Artists on the Road”: https://bit.ly/3So3XNT
The headline says it all. Give Santigold props for being honest, almost nobody else is. They lie, and people believe it. Someone in the crew got Covid… Some other health or personal problem when the truth is they can’t sell enough tickets to make it work.
The 50th Anniversary Roxy Music tour has been notoriously soft. Forget insider gossip, it was even in the “Washington Post.” It’s hard to evaluate profit and loss, because promoter Live Nation has multiple streams of revenue, but one thing is for sure, the company won’t pay the band this much to go out again.
Furthermore, it’s unclear the band even wants to go out again. It’s not like they’re Styx, doing so every year. It’s once in a blue moon. The last time in America was 2003. The members of the band won’t even live long enough to tour again based on that interval!
Yes, everybody’s getting old.
But in truth, Bryan Ferry tours on a much more frequent basis. But if he adds in the other Roxy members, and they cite the 50th anniversary of the first album, will that be enough to entice people to come?
We’re old. The last time I encountered this at a show was almost twenty years ago, the aforementioned year of 2003, when I went to see Simon & Garfunkel at what then was called “Staples Center.” This was a different audience. These were the people who remembered the music from before the Beatles. Not only were they in their sixties, some were in their seventies, there was white hair!
Now the same thing applies to us, we’re those in our sixties and seventies, we’re the ones with white hair.
But what Roxy Music is selling is different from Simon & Garfunkel. Simon & Garfunkel sold songs. Relatively acoustic. Stuff you can play at home. Whereas Roxy Music is selling a sound that is impossible to replicate at home, and no one tries. It’s a series of textures, and the end result is sui generis, there’s nothing like them.
Furthermore, Roxy Music is out of tune with today’s concert world. Today, a show is a party. You go to hang with your brethren. You shoot selfies. Who cares if the music is on hard drive, there are sets to wow you and it’s about the whole experience. Whereas Roxy Music last night was a concert. You remember concerts, don’t you?
Well, unless you’re a boomer you probably don’t. Your parents took you first. To classical ones. You sat in your seat. The music was respected, it set your mind free. There was no talking. It was a religious experience.
That’s rare today.
So I’m standing out by the trailer where they’re dispensing the tickets and I start to see people I know, who I haven’t seen in a few years. Everybody looks older, myself included, I’m sure. That’s what three years does. Life may have stopped, but not aging. And you can tell yourself sixty is the new forty all day long, but your body does not know that. And at my yearly physical the other day, my doctor told me once you hit 50 it’s open season, you’re susceptible to EVERYTHING! Yes, it’s a war of attrition.
And inside the Forum Club…
Let’s just say it’s the same as it ever was. For DECADES! The only difference is since Irving got involved, there’s a buffet of free food, and always a dessert table with a huge cake depicting the act du jour. This is not conventional rock and roll, where no one sacrifices a dollar. It lifts the experience.
But it’s the same damn room and it’s the same damn people, who were there in the eighties, nineties, the twenty first century…
And so many of them can’t work in the music business anymore. Touring people can be lifers, not record label people, unless you run the damn company. But this is all the people who used to be movers and shakers, used to feel good about themselves, that they could move the needle, make a difference. Now there’s little time left. And it’s not the same business anyway. Everything is a sideshow today, all the acts in the Spotify Top 50… Nothing reaches everybody like it did in the pre-internet era. Never mind sixties Top Forty, but MTV in the eighties? You were literally a household name. Music pushed the envelope. It was the bleeding edge art form. Not anymore.
And standing in the corner was Joe Elliott. If this had been the eighties, if this had even been the first decade of this century, there would have been hysteria. A bona fide rock star, in our presence! But now… He’s just another aged guy there to see a band that meant so much to him in his youth. This is not a criticism of Joe, it’s just pointing out our perspective has changed, the stars are not as big as they used to be, they’re not icons, they’re just people. If anything, it’s about the music.
And that’s what drew the audience last night.
Now if you review Roxy Music’s history in America, there were two peaks. “Love is the Drug” was all over FM rock radio back in the mid-seventies. And then “Avalon”…stiffed upon its release in 1982, but subsequently permeated the culture to become a classic. One of the true legendary albums of the era. If you haven’t made love to “Avalon”…
But all this is to point out that if you were in the building, if you paid for a ticket, you were a fan. You knew almost all the cuts. Because the only way you could hear them was if you owned the albums. This was hipster music. I.e. the fans were hipsters, on the bleeding edge, needing to be aware of and consume all the trends.
Roxy Music appeared in 1972. Ultimately, the single “Virginia Plain” was stripped into the American album, but in truth Roxy was a British thing. If you were paying attention, if you were a hipster, you knew how big they were in the U.K. They might have broken at the same time as Bowie, but they were radically different.
And the albums seemed to be made without the audience in mind. There were no compromises. You were either on the trip or you were not.
“For Your Pleasure” was even darker and less comprehensible than the debut. But the sound came completely together on the third LP, “Stranded.” It had the obligatory babe on the cover, but it was very consistent, you didn’t have to be a fan to like it, not that it made a commercial dent over here.
The big story about “Country Life” was the cover. Only the English version showed the women nearly naked.
And then came “Siren,” the album that contained “Love is the Drug,” and just when the act got some traction in the U.S., it broke up. Bryan Ferry had been making solo albums, but now he was fully solo.
And then the band got back together!
“Manifesto” had the delicious “Dance Away,” which was played on FM in Los Angeles. It was followed up by “Flesh + Blood,” which did not get as good reviews, even though it had more and higher peaks, like “Oh Yeah!” and “Over You,” but then two years later came “Avalon” and the band went its separate ways.
You either know all this or you don’t, you were a fan, or you weren’t. And believe me, most people in the U.S. were not. You couldn’t afford every album, it’s not like today with all of the music on streaming services. You had to pick and choose. But if you picked, you knew.
And the people in attendance last night knew.
That was a significant difference. Starting in the mid-seventies and certainly the eighties, when bands had enough hits, casual fans would go to the show, to hear the monster tracks. They might own one album, but not all of them. Of course there were diehards in attendance, but last night everybody was a diehard.
And they were enraptured by the music.
You saw very few cell phones alive. And people were not constantly traipsing to the bathroom or the concession stand. They were there for the music and they weren’t going to miss a thing. They were standing on the floor, because once one person does everybody has to. But in the bowl, they were seated, as this music is best consumed.
So, they opened with “Re-Make/Re-Model,” the opening track on the opening album. If you know the album… Otherwise, you wouldn’t know it at all.
This being the Forum, the sound was excellent. Because the building has no sports teams, it’s only live performance.
And it being an art school troupe, there was video, but it was… Well, you’d have to see it to get it. Not all the pieces were aligned. It was an effect. Illustrating that this was not your regular show. The band was playing by its own rules.
But it all didn’t gel. I mean the band was together, but it was not transcendent, there was no liftoff.
“Out of the Blue” was better. But I was still observing, I was not integrated.
“Bogus Man” was a step back. Then again, it’s not even something you’d expect to be performed live. Talk about art rock… Inherently the audience is excluded.
But then came “The Main Thing.”
Now the funny thing about your favorite albums is your favorite track changes. It took years for me to become obsessed with “The Main Thing.” It wasn’t until over a decade later that I had to play it over and over. Which was now easy to do in the era of CDs. When “Avalon” came out we were still buying vinyl.
“The Main Thing” is not about the lyrics. It’s about the hypnotic groove, the sounds. It’s an aural trip. And it’s not like Bryan Ferry does not play it in his solo shows, but…
Bryan employs Chris Spedding, the legendary leather-clad lead guitarist, an icon himself. To tell you the truth, the fact that Roxy Music was reuniting was less important to me than the songs. But then…
PHIL MANZANERA WAILED!
The riff in the song was amplified, it became something new. A buzzsaw. Straight to the heart and brain. It could not be denied. I mean I’m a Manzanera fan, but he truly took the sound to another level. As did Andy Mackay, on oboe and saxophone. The two, along with original drummer Paul Thompson, took the whole performance to another level. They were not fungible, ultimately they’re irreplaceable, together they make up the Roxy Music sound. The individual parts are interesting, but the sum of them is something completely different.
And it wasn’t only them. There were thirteen people on stage. Talk about costs! They didn’t want one sound from the albums to be left out. This was a show made for millions. But millions of fans did not show up in the U.S.
“Ladytron” is the second song on the first album, the one with the smallest dent in the U.S. I purchased it at the Virgin store in London back in ’72 because I wanted what was hip, and I heard a song on the in-store system that confirmed my desire.
All to the point that this was a track a good portion of the audience did not know. But, if like me, you did… This was a transcendent moment. I’m nodding my head listening now. They don’t make this kind of music anymore, other than Roxy, they didn’t make this music then either! Rhythms, solos, exploration. This is what I went for, to marinate in what once was.
But before that I’d been wrestling, it was a mental crisis. I kept thinking if I’d paid for my ticket would it have been different. But was this just another show? Could I get myself back into that spirit from long ago, when the music was everything, when I went to the show to commune one on one with the band, when the rest of the people in attendance didn’t matter, whatsoever?
With “Ladytron” I started to return to that old time feeling, that old time love. But that was fifty years ago. Most of my life has now been lived. Back then it was all about possibility, now it’s about grabbing a hold of my life personally. I mean I’ve changed, but the music has not. I grew up, but the music did not. It’s a conundrum. What was once everything…is not as much anymore. It might have been bleeding edge once, but now…
It’s weird. It’s not a put-down, it’s just that I’ve risen in status, now they’re musicians not stars. They’ve dedicated their lives to that, and I’ve dedicated mine to…
Then came the first “Avalon” number, “While My Heart is Still Beating,” with an extended, ethereal intro. This was new, this was alive, it built on what was on the record, there was new magic to add to the old magic, I was surfing the astral plain.
Unfortunately, the song that made me realize I couldn’t miss the show, “Oh Yeah!,” missed a bit. Intimate, whimsical, yet serious…just didn’t work with this much production.
But it was followed by “If There is Something,” my favorite song from the debut, the one they were playing on the system in that Virgin store…
It’s 6:34, and it starts off almost carnivalesque, but then…it completely changes, and becomes something different, a little over a minute and a half in. This is where Andy Mackay starts to shine. It’s like someone was telling you a lighthearted story and then they leaned in, looked you in the eye and started spewing the greatest truths. You’re on a journey, solo, to god knows where, and when the number ends, it’s like you’ve been dropped off on an alien planet.
“In Every Dream Home a Heartache” is a tour-de-force, it is in Ferry’s solo shows, and it was last night. Once again, you have to be a hard core fan to know it. But if you are… This sensibility is what drew you to Roxy in the first place. Something singular, representing inner thought, anything but pablum, an exploration, a feature of what once was and is now gone. Inner thought, remember that?
Then back to “Avalon,” with “Tara,” the album’s closing track, an instrumental coda, something you’d never expect to hear live. This is the essence of “Avalon,” sensuous… Another Andy Mackay extravaganza.
But it was with “My Only Love,” from “Flesh + Blood,” that the show truly took off, when you had to close your eyes and revel in the sound, one you cannot get anywhere else.
It’s like suddenly the soundman got the mix exactly right, everybody on stage was firing on all cylinders and the balance was exactly right, it was magical, it both bonded you and set you free. WHEW!
And then came “To Turn You On,” the first song that emerged from “Avalon,” the one they played on the radio in L.A…
This was suddenly too much, an electric jolt went through my body. All my doubts, all my distance, disappeared. Who cared how many tickets the band sold, who cared if everybody knew the material or not, I certainly did, and how many times have I had sex to this? And how many hundreds of times have I listened to this in addition, it never gets old.
“Is it raining in New York
On Fifth Avenue”
The screens were no longer cut in a cubist fashion. There was one big image. Of the city. Yes, Roxy Music is city music. It’s for a fast-paced world, not a slow one. For thinking people, not mindless drifters. It’s for those who have jumped off the cliff and into the fast-flowing maelstrom of life.
“To Turn You On” is an apartment song. Somewhere behind the walls, maybe in a high-rise. It’s all taking place behind closed doors, but through this music you’re getting a glimpse.
Unfortunately it ended, I wanted to live in that space forever. The rest of the world melted away, it was just me and the music.
Now it’s clear the band is building, it’s that time in a show when the players are ascending to the peak. The songs you know by heart, that many people know by heart, the energy coming from the stage was palpable.
“Dance away the heartache
Dance away the tears
But then the piece-de-resistance, MORE THAN THIS!
Yes, the opening track of “Avalon,” the one with the most streams, the one that is most well known.
“It was fun for a while…”
This was reflective back in ’82, even more so today! Life is constantly moving, constantly changing. What you think will continue will not. But you’ve still got your memories…
“More than this
You know there’s nothing’
Ain’t that the truth. It doesn’t get any better this. This is more than Bryan Ferry solo. It’s better than the rock acts of the past pounding the boards to make you move your feet, more than today’s dance extravaganzas, it hearkens back to an era where your favorite record took you on a journey and you didn’t care a whit what anybody else thought about it.
And then the title track, “Avalon.”
This is a hard sound to replicate live, something relatively quiet and intimate, this was what the act struggled with earlier in the set, but not now…
“Now the party’s over, I’m so tired
Then I see you coming, out of nowhere”
Bryan has loosened the tie of his tuxedo, the evening is nearly history, and then he sees her.
You understand, you know… Because the best things always happen when you least expect them. When you’re not paying attention, you’re caught off guard.
Yes, those “oohs” were delivered so exquisitely by one of the backup singers that when she was done the audience couldn’t help but applaud in exaltation.
But there’s that dreamy sound, once again Andy Mackay adding more than you think he ever could.
So if you’ve got the album…
You can hear steps on the driveway, the opening and closing of the car door, the motor revving, and then…
“Late that night I parked my car
Staked my place in the singles bar”
That was a thing, before the apps, before millennials went out in groups.
“Boy meets girl where the beat goes on”
Bryan Ferry anyway, but he was our model, he gave us hope, with the music in our heads we were empowered.
“I say go, she says yes
Dim the lights, you can guess the rest”
Oh, we certainly can. We were old enough to know, we were old enough to be experienced. Roxy Music was not for teenagers, it was for those who were no longer wet behind the ears, who were navigating the world by themselves, trying to find their way, who were learning that love was the drug, in fact it was everything.
That was the peak, the apotheosis. Next were two numbers from “For Your Pleasure,” “Editions of You” and “Do the Strand.”
“There’s a new sensation
A fabulous creation”
That’s what Roxy Music was. That was its appeal, it was exotic. Either you were the type to go on an adventure, or you were a prisoner of the radio.
And then it was…
Now at some shows there’s one more number, one more encore.
Yes, you learn this when you check the set lists. I was waiting for it, hoping for it, but…
No matter how much they paid for a ticket, certain people need to leave to beat the traffic. Which I never understood. I know someone who missed Kirk Gibson’s home run that way. Why not have the complete experience?
But the other problem with an old audience is it’s not rabid, it won’t stand and clap forever, maybe if they’d done so a little longer the band would have come out and performed the cover of John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy,” which Bryan Ferry has made his own.
But it was not to be. The band had worked the audience into a frenzy and then…
That was it.
Waiting for the Manzaneras in the Forum Club…
It was the usual suspects. Most people leave after the show. But there are the others, mostly faceless, who will stay until they close the doors. As if they’re hanging on to be part of rock and roll, still believing in the dream, even though at this point they’re crying in their beer, many of them alkies.
Yes, bars are for young people. And you don’t want to be the last one there. And you certainly don’t want to drive home after that, which you have to in L.A., there is no public transportation and good luck getting an Uber, I was canceled on three times last week before I finally got a ride, wasted nearly forty five minutes, and rides are no longer cheap. And yes, I use Uber generically, in fact it was Lyft, but I’ve had the same cancellation problem with Uber too. They say they’re going to pick you up and then they…don’t, it’s a driver’s market.
It was a bit creepy. These denizens of the night are no longer twenty or thirtysomething. You wished they had somewhere to go. But all they had left was this music. But that scene, with its leather and skinny jeans, is over and dead. History. And who knows, when we’re gone there could be a Roxy Music revival, but about the only thing we know is going to survive us is the Beatles, the rest is leaving with us.
We’re like our parents. Going to see people that would draw blank faces amongst today’s younger generation.
But this is not just music of our generation, it was much more than that. People say it’s the same as it ever was, but nothing could be further from the truth. Acts didn’t sell out to politicians and corporations, they begged and the performers said no, after all they were making so much dough, as much as anybody else in America, there were no billionaires, and billionaires are famous for their money, what they do is usually irrelevant, but with the musical acts of yore…it was just the opposite.
Ultimately Roxy Music is cerebral. Like I said, the music came alive on stage. Who knew the brilliance of Phil Manzanera and what he’d add, ditto Andy Mackay. It’s really about the records, when records were king, today it’s live performance, everything is about the show. For years Steely Dan didn’t tour at all, today they’d be broke. You make your bones, build your career, bond yourself to your fans and make your bread at the gig.
But Roxy Music needs no gig. The music transcends the gig. When you listen to “Avalon” you don’t even think a band is involved. It’s just a seamless creation that you take at face value. You don’t envision a studio, putting the pieces together, rather there’s just the finished product.
That was enough, we didn’t need more of that.
But we’d love more of this.
But we’re not going to get it, not going to happen. Either you were there last night or you were not. You can check New Music Friday but you will not find this sound, this magic. You’ll have to go back to the decades-old originals, from a bygone era. They’ve painted since the Renaissance, but we’ve never had another da Vinci, nor a Raphael or Michelangelo, never mind all at the same time. We lived through something special, that has never been repeated and may never be repeated, when your desire was to be a musician, so you could express yourself, and the audience had its ears open, attuned to the new and different.
Many of those acts can’t even perform, the members are dead. Others are a poor facsimile of what they once were. Others have members who hate each other too much, usually because of money. The rest? They’ve been on endless victory tours, final shows that were not, you could see them if you wanted to.
But not Roxy Music. Which are more akin to Halley’s Comet. They were here, but then they’re gone, not to return for a significant number of years. But Halley’s Comet burns on, humans do not. They have a finite life span. And if you miss them, it’s too late. If you missed Roxy Music live, you probably missed your last chance. And most people don’t care, but there are others…
We had fun for a while…