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Reunion Dues: Can Roxy Music bring back the days of old fresher than ever on its reunion tour?

Both Ends Burning

Roxy Music once made everything sound old-fashioned--can their reunion tour recapture the magic?

By Gina Arnold

WHAT I REMEMBER BEST about the last time Roxy Music played here in the Bay Area was being all excited about the opening act. The tickets read "special guest," and somehow we--my brother and sister and I--had got it into our heads that it was going to be our new favorite band at the time, name of R.E.M.

Boy, were we naive! R.E.M. had a single EP out, titled Chronic Town, and what's more, it was on an indie label. The odds R.E.M. would land a spot on a grandiose tour like Roxy's were exactly nil, but we knew nothing about the music biz at the time, and the pairing made sense in our head.

We trusted to Bill Graham to see to things like that, so you can imagine our disappointment when the lights went down and some nameless synthesized New Wave band came on instead. (My brother, who conveniently keeps a card catalog of every show we ever saw, says they were called A Perfect View.)

The year was 1983, and the synth band was a copycat of the Fixx. Roxy Music played its last gig in May of that year, i.e., 18 years ago last month. Its first performance came 12 years prior, in 1971, at a club called the Hobbit's Garden in suburban London, i.e., almost a third of a century ago (as that club's dorky name implies).

But here Roxy Music comes again, lookin' better than a body has a right to, or so we can only hope. The band will play the Concord (now the Chronicle) Pavilion on Aug. 4, and the show is considered a must-see/don't-miss/kill-yourself-to-get-there proposition for the over-40 rock lovers who came of age in the '70s.

Roxy Music was a prog-rock band featuring singer Bryan Ferry and synth player Brian Eno. It served as the link between early-'70s blues-metal guitar bands like Led Zeppelin and more modern, quirky glam bands like Genesis and Yes, ushering into being a sound that owed less to American folk and blues vernaculars and more to the English art-school imagination.

Though the group was very much influenced by David Bowie, who of course borrowed Eno in later incarnations, it had a foot in a more esoteric camp as well. Roxy Music mixed up electronic noises with blues instruments like the saxophone and the soulful, croonery vocals of Mr. Ferry.

The effect, as one British critic recently recalled, "was to make everything that had come before it seem curiously old-fashioned." Roxy Music was, for some reason, the one extremely popular band of that era to escape punk rock's wrath. Instead, it was credited with a great many liberational qualities, possibly because its members wore fancy dress-up and makeup and yet were clearly heterosexual. (Sexy Ferry was engaged to Jerry Hall, who graced most of the band's album covers in a state of undress.)

I once heard a lecture at the university of London in which the speaker concluded that Roxy Music was rock's one really "rebellious" act, far more political than Bob Dylan or the Sex Pistols, because it was all about personal liberation--and though I don't credit that, I am a fan.

In its heyday, the band only had a few hits, "Love Is the Drug," "Dance Away" and a cover of "Jealous Guy," but the band's best work came earlier: "Do the Strand," "Virginia Plain," "Flesh and Blood."

ALL THIS begs the question of what the group will like now that Ferry and his cohorts Phil Manzanara and Andy McKay are all in their mid-'50s. (Eno declined to take part in the tour.) Reunion tours are an iffy thing, I find. Sometimes they are dreadful, and sometimes they're OK.

Dreadful ones I've seen include the Rolling Stones, the Clash, the Who and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band (on tape); good ones were Jane's Addiction, the Buzzcocks and Bauhaus, who somehow managed to avoid plummeting the audience into the abyss of nostalgic feelings.

What makes the difference? It's hard to say. I know those who say it depends on whether you saw them the first time, but I don't know if that's true. I think it has more to do with the attitude of the players. If they're in it for the money and some weird hope of recognition, there is a taint of sweaty greed and desire about their persons that I swear I can smell.

If they're just having a laugh or a vacation from their real lives, then it's all right. I hope very much that Roxy Music will prove to be in the latter category, and I think that they will. Mr. Ferry, after all, has never stopped touring (he said in a press conference that he wanted to reunite because he played these songs with his solo band anyway) and is as dignified as ever.

Some may remember a near-death experience he had last fall, when a crazed student nearly brought down a commercial jet he was on over Kenya. According to an interview at the time, Mr. Ferry's reaction was to swear too loud and tick his son off. Now that's cool.

Live Through This

ROXY WAS always known for its sartorial splendor, and being men, they'll probably still be dressed to kill (and guess who's dying?). Not so Madonna, who has been appearing lately in photos from her Drowned World tour in this terrible punk-rock bondage outfit, replete with an awful kilt.

She looks like Axel Rose, or Adam Ant, or worse. It's really unfair: why should 50-something men like Ferry be able to look endlessly chic for life everlasting, while women 10 years younger get reamed for not dressing their age?

Nevertheless, unjust though it is to make such assertions, I'd be telling a big fat lie if I didn't say right off that Madonna's new kilt look is dumb and undignified--besides being a comment on a previous era's fashion statement that no longer has any relevance.

That said, having read much of the extremely mixed European press about Drowned World, I'm looking forward intensely to Madonna's stop in Oakland on Sept. 5, to form my own opinion. Especially about the "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Madonna" scene. If you don't have tickets, try www.craigslist.com. They're always a good source.

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From the July 26-August 1, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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