Review: Bryan Ferry Brings Avalon to Chicago

It’s hard to put my finger on what initially drew me to Roxy Music. It’s possible that it was the dramatic, campy album artwork I’d find in record stores or maybe it was knowing that Brian Eno was one half of the spiritual backbone of this band for a period of time. There’s something strangely ephemeral about the songs and atmosphere they cultivate – it tends to slowly build, like wine, and then when it finally hits, you’re fully intoxicated and transported. Growing up around this music and always revisiting it from time to time only amplified my interest in seeing them live. Having these feelings, you can imagine my intense enthusiasm when I saw Third Coast editor Julian’s email asking if anyone wanted to review Bryan Ferry’s Chicago show. I immediately responded yes, of course! Fate smiled upon me. Photo Credit: Ellinor Stigle I left work and wound up at Chicago Theatre right as the doors opened around 7:15. Downtown Chicago was thick with summer tourists and the young, suburban Lollapolooza crowd. I don’t even know if that’s how you spell it. I don’t care. I’m drifting. Back to Bryan and Sophie. As I found my way to my seat, I was immediately caught off guard by Sophie Auster who was beginning her set. Sophie Auster’s voice is perhaps the most immediately entrancing thing about her existing as a sort of wandering, lost soul trying to make sense of moments of happiness or reflecting on periods of loss. While these things are generally what songs are written about, Sophie exercised a strange, strong, lovely sense of emotional tact with her delivery. The untrained ear might immediately compare her to someone like Cat Power or Newsom but there’s more there, something that exists translating the liminal haze of emotional flares and crushing losses. If I counted right, Sophie only played nine songs but it would’ve been nice to see more. And, as I understand it, she is providing the lead song on The Big Lebowski spin-off The Jesus Rolls. I’d keep an eye out for a more outlaw Sophie in the future. As Sophie left the stage, I took the chance to go buy a Roxy Music shirt before returning to my seat to prepare for Bryan to take the stage. After an almost Phil Collins-like introduction 73-year-old art rock legend Bryan Ferry arrived with a humble smirk and immediately began playing “The Main Thing” quickly followed by “The Space Between” and “Out of the Blue.” It felt incredible to see Bryan work the crowd and performatively it wouldn’t be outlandish to say he had the charisma and pomp of Morrissey, a more controversial contemporary of his. While it wasn’t explicitly said, most of Bryan’s set was Roxy Music’s iconic album Avalon, which cemented them in history as one of, if not the, art rock band of their time. It might be easy to lean on someone like Bowie as the reigning king, which from a celebrity standpoint he certainly was, but the depth and ethic were with Roxy Music. That said, this show was a great callback to the vivid and lush history of Roxy Music and how timeless their music remains. In a sea of fans, most who were twenty to thirty years my senior, time and space sort of drifted away and we were all transported to the neon, cigarette smoke, Miami dream that Bryan Ferry creates with his songs and lyrics. Songs that somehow manage to feel like the whole party; the nervous beginnings, the laughter, drug, and alcohol fueled middle, and the romantic end and ultimate comedown. It was an experience I won’t soon forget.
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Joshua Zoerner