Newcastle Show - The Guardian - Tue 25th Jan

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by Euan Ferguson

This was a brave show, in many ways. At a micro level, it was brave of Bryan Ferry, in the penultimate "Jealous Guy", to insist on still doing the whistling solo, puffed sweating cheeks magnified by a thousand up behind, when guitar or sax could have stood in, all these years later; Ferry's glorious quavery croon of a voice is still 90% there, but his whistle has gone way west. At a macro level, it was brave to insist on this set. Brave because there was a big risk of disappointing the audience and significant parts of the crowd were duly let down.

If you can't please an eager Newcastle audience, full of goodwill (for, in particular, local boys Ferry and drummer Paul Thompson, thousands of pithy, middle-aged Geordies so keen they had paid £65 a pop and, more crucially, been forced to tramp below damp bridges in the unlit Gothic backstreets of the city's wharflands to enter the most hideously unlovely music venue in Britain), if you can't, at some stage, build a head of steam from the floor and leave them with a smile on their faces, perhaps it's also time to be brave enough, before you hit less forgiving audiences, to tear up the set list.

Not drop any of the songs, far from it. There were plenty of highlights from the lesser-known canon, from the early albums, mainly "For Your Pleasure" itself, mainly the opener, "Street Life", and a fabulous early rendition of "If There Is Something". But it was an hour and a quarter before the real hits – "Avalon", then bang into "Virginia Plain", "Love Is the Drug" etc (though no "Let's Stick Together" – yes I know it was technically Ferry solo but still…), and you could sense the restlessness for them. In the crush of the male loos immediately afterwards, the middle-aged equivalent of the mosh pit, one outspoken gentleman turned from his business and addressed the pissoir at large: "Where the chuff was Roxy Music then? Sixty-five quid for that and not even a chuffing encore", although he didn't use the word chuff in either noun or adjectival form. More forgiving voices argued it was like first-night pantos: plenty of time to tweak it.

The problem is that there were two sets of fans, indistinguishable by looks or age alone: those who had listened endlessly to all the early albums, recognised every obscure track and thrilled to these powerful, faithful recreations, and those who've spent 20 years just dancing to the hits. Ferry and the band had chosen, bravely as I say, to delight the first lot and in this they succeeded with fair gusto. Helped, of course, by the undimmed magnificence of the band. Phil Manzanera and new boy Oliver Thompson – what a find – on guitar and, of course, Andy Mackay on oboe and saxes. I loved Mackay when growing up as he was the only thing that made playing the oboe mildly acceptable. The oboe's not even a sexy instrument to carry, with its silly wee flat boring case, but I could point to the Roxy man, when they were such an artsy clever cutting-edge band, which they truly were, for years; the fact they later gave us a minor legacy of danceable brilliance was just a bonus.

Anyway, the solos, often lengthy, were magnificent and backed perfectly by a running artsy backdrop of images, from Bogart to the spooky likes of Bosch and Arcimboldo and, during my personal highlight of the night, a fast emotional montage of Roxy's albums, cuttings, stills and memories, to a filthily energetic version of "Do the Strand".

The band (or at least the man running the sound system) was too powerful, at times, for Ferry: even better voices than his would have struggled, and the acoustics here are as depressingly unlovely as the shed itself. Generally, he coped terrifically and even became human by the end, sweating like a Jesmond navvy and doing proper rocky things like flinging hands around and enjoying himself, rather than just standing still stylishly, left hand flat against perfect hip pocket, pose and pocket cut just-so. He didn't interact much, though you could feel a palpable disappointment at this from the audience, but, then again, he never did.

He's probably not going to change now, not make concessions to what other people want, any more than the confident Andy Mackay's going to make any concessions to style by removing the old-man horn-rimmed glasses. Whether they, and the rest of this splendid line-up, stick to principles or make any concessions at all to those who just like the "dancey" songs they recognise, by simply shuffling the set list, maybe adding an encore, will determine the popular, rather than critical, success of the rest of this tour.

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