The Guardian JANUARY 26, 2011 - by Dave Simpson


Newcastle Arena

Roxy Music's 1972 debut album is one of a handful to lay genuine claim to having been the sound of the future. Amid genre-busting, dazzling explosions of the possibilities of what was still, at heart, rock'n'roll, Bryan Ferry sang a futuristic vision of human beings as numbers and existential alienation, and it was all impossibly chic.

Nostalgia was also always part of the deal, Ferry's wistful longing for the lost world of early Hollywood glamour a key facet of his lyrics. But few, least of all Roxy themselves, would have imagined that four decades later they would be playing a glorified aircraft hangar up the road from Ferry's Washington birthplace, that the bald pates in the audience would be the only visual reminder of their peacock-feathered synthesizer genius Brian Eno, or that they would be joining rock's revival circuit at a futuristic sixty-five pounds a ticket.

Some of their ideas still sound astonishingly radical: Andy Mackay's use of oboe as lead instrument, Phil Manzanera's edge-of-your-seat guitar soloing through entire songs. A huge screen collides today's veterans against iconography and special effects reminiscent of a 1973 Top Of The Pops. The dazzling visual collage means only fleeting glimpses reveal that Ferry's barnet is vulnerable to the same sweaty stresses as mere mortals, or that Mackay is starting to resemble former BBC anchorman Peter Sissons.

The setlist underlines Eno's oft-repeated comment that their 1972 debut opened Roxy to any number of directions. There's glam country (Prairie Rose), disco-era ennui (Same Old Scene), spooky piano atmospherics (For Your Pleasure), rollicking pre-punk travelogues (a blistering Editions Of You) and perhaps too many dull later 1970s album tracks. The more obvious titans of the back catalogue, such as Ladytron and In Every Dream Home A Heartache, are ignored in favour of unexpected treats, including 1973's funky Amazona.

Ferry says little apart from an incongruous "Heyy!" There are grins on stage, but the expected party atmosphere never quite gets going. Part of the problem is a distorting, echoey sound system, which turns the busier songs (and at times, criminally, Ferry's luscious croon) to mush. Sentimental Fool, in particular, sounds like an orchestra doing a tune-up.

Somehow, Ferry's ageless cool and the more minimal songs survive it all. If There Is Something and the heartfelt Bogart homage 2 H.B. are spine-tingling, Do The Strand a hurtling collision of melancholy, euphoria and saxophone - tantalising glimpses of why these middle-aged men performing in a grey shed were, for a long time, the best band on the planet.