Massey Hall Toronto - Tue 9th Nov

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Massey Hall Toronto
09 November 1999

Bryan Ferry
November 9, 1999
Massey Hall, Toronto

Review by Paul Gangadeen

Photos by Richard Beland

It's been five years since Bryan Ferry, the former singer to '70s avant-garde pop group Roxy Music, has released a new album or staged a tour. This particular performance tonight was to support his "new" album of 1930's covers entitled, As Time Goes By.It features many popular styles of music such as ragtime, Broadway show-tunes and traditional jazz. The entire Roxy Music CD catalogue has been recently remastered re-released, too. So that makes for even more incentive to tour.

Massey Hall, a very prestigious Toronto venue dating back to the late 1800's, contributed to the majesty of these songs and gave the feeling that time had in fact been re-wound back to the '30s. At the beginning of the show, the audience was treated to a five-minute harp (not harmonica!) solo followed by a five-minute string-quartet classical piece and finally a slow ragtime piece performed by a jazz ensemble for yes, you guessed it, five minutes. As these three performances ensued, one got the feeling that perhaps Bryan was giving a brief history lesson on the progression of musical entertainment from very early on right up to the point where As Time Goes Bytakes place. A mirror ball suspended from the ceiling was lit and as it turned, a very suave Bryan Ferry dressed in a tuxedo jacket, white shirt and shiny black pants entered stage right to loud applause and began the set proper with the up-tempo ragtime number, "The Way You Look Tonight." Ferry assumed the trademark crooner stance of leaning the mic stand toward his face and after the tune, he announced that "it's good to be back in Toronto." After a couple more songs from his latest album, he introduced the next song from one of his earlier solo albums, a multi-styled version of the Platters' hit song, "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes." This rendition featured a straight-ahead chorus followed by a Mexican-sounding bridge, complete with the percussive castanets as well as string accompaniment and finally a rock-type ending. After a very sullen, atmospheric-sounding tune, there was a shift back to the '30s with "Easy Living" and as the tune played, one couldn't help but feel that they were standing in an old jazz club similar to the Cotton Club, complete with a tuxedo-uniformed band, starlit backdrop and standing soloists.

Most of the evening had been spent devoted to his latest release which was generally well-received but as the set moved along, Bryan took the opportunity to acknowledge some of his pop hits both as a solo artist and part of Roxy Music. The first song to be featured was "Avalon" the title-track from the 1981 Roxy Music album and as soon as the opening bossa nova drum beat filled the hall, the cheers and applause erupted from all over and all of a sudden, the spell had been broken, the audience had been transported back to the present. This tune featured the all-female string quartet singing back-up and a large moon had been shone over the band in the corner.

Following this, the band lead into the John Lennon love song "Jealous Guy," complete with Ferry doing the whistle solo at the song's end. The set's final tune, "Let's Stick Together" from the self-titled solo release featured a harmonica solo played by Ferry and the string quartet could be seen literally rocking out on their strings to the song's driving beat. The band left the stage after an hour and a half and were coaxed back to the stage only after a few minutes of cheers and they closed off with the Roxy Music classic, "Do The Strand." Once the audience quieted, Ferry closed the evening with a sentimental version of "As Time Goes By," a song immortalized in the classic Humphrey Bogart film, Casablanca.

It's quite ironic as well as clever that Bryan Ferry chose to close off his contributions to the decade, century, millennium with a release titled "As Time Goes By." As well as being a tribute to a period where songwriting was considered to be a serious craft, the irony lies in the fact that in prior recordings, Bryan Ferry who normally utilized the latest technological advances in his recordings, chose to record this album using real instruments without the aid of drum programs, sequencers and synthesizers in a time where technology reigns supreme. As we are close to this century's end and looking toward the dawning of a new millennium, Bryan Ferry had taken a brief moment to look back and remind all in attendance that night that "the fundamental things apply as time goes by..."

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