Roxy Music, United Center, Chicago, September 19, 2022


Roxy Music, United Center, Chicago, September 19, 2022
~roxy music~

‎On Monday night, I went to the United Center in Chicago to see Roxy Music. At 9pm, I am suddenly in the same room with Phil Manzanera, and he is playing guitar on Roxy Music songs. I am standing in front of Andy McKay, the golden boy saxophonist/woodwind-ist that made all the girls swoon when the Ritz would show Roxy Music videos on the big screen (the one PiL would eventually trash or ensure would be trashed). I am close enough to Bryan Ferry to observe how exquisitely his tousled hair drapes across his weathered, but still gorgeous face and hearing his voice live is like luxuriating in a warm bath. There, over his shoulder, is Roxy drummer Paul Thompson. They open the show with “Re-Make/Re-Model” into “Out of the Blue” (with “India” playing over the PA as the musicians walked onstage) and it is, as the kids say, instantly a vibe. But then again, 50 years of Roxy Music is basically a vibe, a creation of a sound and an approach and an attitude.

“Re-Make/Re-Model” is probably the song I would play for someone who wanted me to explain Roxy Music to them: the dissonance, the electronics, the modulation in Ferry’s voice, the elements of the old forms of rock and roll shamelessly repurposed, it all shouldn’t fit together but it does, beautifully, and that to me is what they were about. “Out of the Blue,” next in the setlist, is slithering and seductive and honestly enacts some kind of emotional coercion in how it pulls you into the misty thick of it before you realize you are traveling along with them within the body of the song.

post cover

Someone once referred to Bryan Ferry in those days as ‘vampire Elvis’ and I absolutely see the Elvis (and there has always been a straight line from 72 Ferry to Macphisto) but I never saw Roxy as dark or malevolent. I somehow ran into Roxy Music somewhere, and I felt brave enough to say, I like this. I knew it was at a level of sophistication that was way over my head and I did not understand, but everything fascinated and delighted me—the lyrics, the production, the visuals and the fashion. The music was intricate but not inscrutable. It had humor but in a sly, playful way, not absurd like, say, the Bonzos, which I wanted badly to like but it went over my head most of the time.

It felt like Roxy Music emerged from a Wonderland of eyeshadow and gold lame and glamour with an u. Eno was long gone by the time I stumbled onto them and I could hear the difference but I also did not care. I found them when I found them. My first Roxy Music album in real time was Manifesto. I bought it about the same time I found a cassette of Here Come The Warm Jets on sale for some reason at Johnny’s Music in Darien. And in 2022, I am finally seeing them perform live.

There are many other people on the stage - a percussionist, sax/keys/rhythm player, two keyboard players, three backing singers. I have been working to get over my rockist purist tendencies to just want to see only official band members onstage playing the songs, but that is literally not possible with Roxy Music in a live setting. It’s not based on anything except vague theories of energy and magic and how I desperately want to feel what it was like to see Roxy Music back in 1972, when they were opening for Humble Pie.

I want to experience what must have been this heady swirl of strange and exotic, that edge where glam met prog rock and became art rock, a band absolutely, thoroughly British to the point where it almost didn’t translate on this side of the pond, a band that didn’t care if they did or not (at least originally). Roxy Music were sexy and loose and louche, mysterious and multi-layered. It is a ridiculous expectation that they will still be like that, 50 years later. But I hope and watch and close my eyes and listen. Bryan Ferry moves between microphone and adjacent small keyboard and when he’s upright he’s both heartthrob and band leader. He punctuates random notes and beats, occasionally makes small gestures, places his fist at the level of his heart, turns and walks over to hear a particular passage played by a bandmate. He is still carrying his own brand of attitude and mystery.


The freaks were out at the United Center; I don’t understand how one would decide that appropriate attire for a Roxy Music show was cargo shorts and a t-shirt, and yet there were grown-ass men who sat in the first 10 rows wearing just that. But there are also men in tuxedos and sport jackets, bow ties and gold lame. I am wearing almost as much makeup as I did when I got my author photos taken, and I cannot tell you the last time I did that. I am myself attired in a silky black slip dress under a silver leopard print tuxedo jacket; I almost borrowed a feather boa but opted out at the last minute. There are many other women in evening wear or other fantastic getups: there are two women in the front row, both in black dresses: one dances with a unfolded fan all night and I am unsure whether it is affectation or practicality but it is warm so the gesture succeeds on both counts. Her companion’s gown is long and backless; she cries all night while remaining in motion, and never sitting down.

To my right, a few rows up, is another very tall and distinguished woman who I dub ‘the bird lady’ because she has on a top that is sheer black, diaphanous and puffy, with either feathers or a boa or some kind of similar ornamentation. She dances delightedly and expressively even when the people around her sit down. Not far away is a couple who are thrilled to be here; he is wearing a tux, is wearing a strappy, slinky top, and based on their dancing throughout the entire night, they definitely went home and had a lot of sex, and, you know, good for them. All of these people are who I expect to see at a Roxy Music show, and I am glad to see them; it makes me know I am in the right place, that I belong. It’s unexpected that that should matter so much in 2022, at my advanced age, but with everything that has happened in the last 6-7 years, where you don’t always feel comfortable everywhere you go anymore, it’s nice to be among kindred souls.

A friend of mine in the 100 level reported that she was watching a guy on the floor dance his ass off for the first two songs, only for him to stop and yell THIS IS WHY BRIAN ENO LEFT during “The Bogus Man,” which wouldn’t have been my personal choice for the third song of the set, but as Bryan would semi-apologize, it’s hard to make a set out of all the material available and keep everyone happy. (And that sentiment wasn’t entirely incorrect.) However, the people who were happy were the members of Roxy Music. Phil Manzanera was absolutely fantastic; I stood up for a standing ovation after more than one interlude, and I was far from the only one. Bryan seemed genuinely gratified by the crowd’s tangible enthusiasm, despite the low turnout (the 200 level was closed off, anyone who had tickets got relocated, and this has been the case throughout the tour so far except Boston, where they got moved to a smaller venue. So if you are vaguely interested and they are near you, GO.) He was thrilled at the loud singalongs, and seemed caught off-guard by the audience’s attention and enthusiasm. Andy Mackay, who recently dealt with throat cancer, wasn’t exactly duckwalking and he did have someone seconding him on some parts, but he did sport a quiff and hearing him open “Ladytron” felt surreal. I don’t even care much for “Tara” —I am not a slow song girl! —but it was stunning. I am here and this is Roxy Music and they are all right there, how is this possible? How is this even possible?

But the real goosebump moment for me had to be “In Every Dream Home A Heartache.” I remember watching someone’s livestream from their Rock Hall induction, and they ran out of battery in the middle of the intro to that song and I literally screamed out loud. I didn’t go because that was the Harry/Stevie year so there were zero bargains to be found and here was my chance and I missed out. But cut to this week, where there’s a perfect segue from “If There Is Something” into “Heartache” and I think I like the emotion and inflection that Ferry applies here, it’s not identical to the original but it’s one of those things that would be impossible to duplicate. Everyone yells, AND THEN YOU BLEW MY MIND, perfectly on cue.

I don’t know if you ever saw the movie Times Square; it was reissued this year and I haven’t written about it because it has absolutely not held up with time and all I’d be doing is writing about that. But Times Square had such an impact because it was the first time the songs on that soundtrack were elevated so commercially, like, to the general public. It’s the best use of a Patti Smith song I’ve ever seen (“Pissing In A River”) and the placement of Roxy’s “Same Old Scene” is phenomenal, and manages to invoke late 70’s NYC in a way a British art band shouldn’t be able to do: the emptiness, the ennui, the energy. I know, it has nothing to do with any of that, but it has been indelible for me through the decades.

I am a bigger fan of the earlier and mid-career albums, and by the time Avalon came along and was on every new wave radio station it was one of those moments where suddenly everyone knew who Roxy Music were and discovered that Bryan Ferry was an absolute snack. It didn’t matter, because they were all still on our side of the aisle, and if he turned into some kind of MTV matinee idol (and, I mean, they came close) that was okay by me. I was just not running onto the dance floor for “More Than This,” and would wait for “Love Is the Drug” or “Editions of You,” which is not coincidentally how the set ends, before coming back for an encore of “Do The Strand” and “Jealous Guy.” I moved to Manhattan the year after John Lennon was shot and that cover was perfect, a perfect tribute, a perfect interpretation, and still resonates with all of the emotion and heartbreak we all felt back then, and can still feel now, even, as I said goodbye to my eyeliner in those last minutes of the show, and goodbye to a group of musicians I'm unlikely to see again.


Plan C