Bryan Ferry is a man renowned for his immaculate taste in matters aesthetic and musical, and throughout this show, the first of two nights in London, he largely lived up to his reputation. Dressed soberly in a dark suit and knitted tie, and looking admirably trim and miraculously untroubled by hair-loss, he moved with that familiar effortless, casual grace – a shuffle of the feet, a Simon Templar-ish click of the fingers, a toss of the head, a slink of the shoulders. Musically, too, this show was, for the most part, an elegant, tasteful affair, meticulously played by his eight-piece band (among them that venerable old geezer Chris Spedding on guitar, and Roxy Music’s Paul Thompson on drums) and accompanied by vaguely erotic visuals on the screen behind the stage, plus dancers who grooved in scanty clothing. So far, so good.
And yet: it lacked crackle and vitality. Partly this was because of a poor choice of material. The show sagged badly in the middle, with its surfeit of mid-tempo guitar-chuggers. Chiefly, though, there was an air of cool precision that militated against possible eruptions of high emotion. Ferry’s version of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues”, from his 2007 album of Dylan covers, Dylanesque, approached a tipping point, with its sparring slide guitars and Ferry’s scorching harmonica; also impressive was the dense, dark “You Can Dance”, from last year’s Olympia album. Likewise, the closing sequence of songs – “Oh Yeah”, “Love Is the Drug”, “Let’s Stick Together” – quickened the pulse. And in terms of its sense of urgency, this was certainly a step up from the dull London leg of Roxy Music’s reunion tour this year. Nevertheless, the overwhelming mood here was one of toe-tapping restraint.
One has to ask: whatever possessed him to attempt to cover Neil Young’s torrid epic, “Like a Hurricane”? Ferry has a fantastic record as an interpreter of other people’s songs, going back to his 1973 covers album These Foolish Things, but this was an insipid abomination (also, however gifted a guitarist, Chris Spedding is not Neil Young). From a man renowned for his taste, this was a rare lapse, and strengthened the argument for a system of planning regulations to prevent badly conceived cover versions from reaching the public domain.