JULY 29, 2003

By Clark Paul

I spent my teen years in the 1970's, an era in which we figured rock and roll couldn't get any worse. So much for prescience. Needless to say, I've been around too long to fall for any new marketing trends or gimmicks, including reunion tours, and hell - let's face facts - I've just been around too long.

I swore off concerts years ago - too short, too shitty, too crowded, and too expensive - but when Roxy Music reunited back in 2001 after more than 18 years in moth balls, I nearly cast aside my snarkiness and bought tickets to their Detroit gig (also at DTE), but never quite got around to it, trapped in a shadowy netherworld of sleep deprivation (it's not a bad buzz) and around-the-clock feedings and diaper changes thanks to my then eight-month-old twin daughters. Within what seemed like hours after that show ended, however, the unwaveringly gushing reviews began to pour in from a network of well-intentioned friends and a few who just wanted to gloat. As I wrapped up the last of what looked like a piece of pumpkin pie in a nappy and tossed it in the trash, I came to the inevitable conclusion that I'd seriously fucked up.

Well, it's 2003 and Roxy Music are still at it, milking a rich back catalogue with nothing in it fresher than 1983, the year their last studio album "Avalon" was released. From out of the blue (no pun intended), my wife's cousin's husband called me with an offer of free sixth-row ducats, VIP parking, and VIP lounge privileges. Hell, I'm there for that!

I'd never thought of Detroit as a real big Roxy Music town but apparently Bryan Ferry was recently heard singing its praises during an NPR interview. Love us they do I guess because the Murder City is one of only five U.S. cities slated for this tour. Go figure...

A bit of history may be in order regarding DTE Energy Music Theater, an amphitheater with both pavilion and lawn seating. In its previous incarnation as Pine Knob Music Theater (named after a nearby ski hill - or do I have it twisted around?), it was almost as well known for its nightmarishly gridlocked parking lots and some of the most deplorable restroom conditions this side of a gulag as it was for live music. Of course, some people enjoy pissing in sinks. After the local energy conglomerate took over ownership several years ago, some of the big coin they'd bilked from John Q. Consumer went into bigger and better loos, concessions, parking lots, and acoustics, making the joint almost bearable. Sitting in the VIP area and sucking down the first watered-down $7 beer of the night, second thoughts began to gnaw away at me.

On paper, it seemed a no-brainer - original members Ferry, Phil Manzanera (technically, Manzanera's not original equipment - he replaced Davy O'List prior to the band recording its first album - but we'll let him slide), Paul Thompson, and Andy Mackay, with classy, underrated cult hero Chris Spedding on second guitar no less, empowered to run roughshod through that back catalogue with no new tunes to get in the way - but I'd been built up and knocked down with reunion scams before (see The Who, Kiss, and Bruce Springsteen).

After making our way down to our seats, fortified by some of Canada's finest hops, malts, and grains, we caught part of an acoustic set by the guitarists of a band named Tammany Hall, Matt Anthony and Steve O'Reilly, power strumming their way through a few songs which may have sounded pretty interesting if their bass player and drummer had bothered showing up.

About 20 minutes after Tammany Hall's set ended, the lights went down for Roxy and here they came, minus Ferry who, after all these years, still has to make a grand entrance. Well, about a minute into their opening number "Re-Make/Re-Model," as my head spun and women screamed, I quickly conceded the guy probably deserves a grand entrance. The bastard hasn't aged a day in looks or voice and it wouldn' surprise me to learn that he sucks the souls out of newborn babies to insure everything stays that way. Clad in a plain black suit, white shirt, and black tie, Ferry tightrope danced across the front of the stage with a cocksure arrogance, looking like he was either handling a poisonous spider or having his back scratched by a supermodel, just out of the outstretched arms of some pretty freakin' hot suburban housewives looking to play a little grab-ass.

Next it was off to the races with a version of "Street Life" that was played at twice the pace of the "Stranded" studio version, Manzanera, all in white in contrast to Ferry, coaxing a rippling solo from his red Gibson Firebird. For the first several songs, Spedding, also looking dapper both sartorially and tonsorially in all black and sporting a silver quiff that stood up straight from his head (wish I could get mine to do that!), seemed kind of lost, with a death grip on his black Les Paul. Manzanera quietly retreated into the shadows until Spedding moved closer to the front of the stage and into the light, calmly peeling off a series of tightly-coiled solos with nary a blink, then both came together for a truly incendiary "Both Ends Burning," everybody on their feet and dancing an interstellar rhumba.

Back when I was in high school, it seemed like all of the girls I knew were seriously in lust with Ferry (Rod Stewart and Bowie, too) and based on the women in the audience at DTE, he hasn't lost his knack to give 'em what they want. When he nailed the whistle solo near the end of "Jealous Guy," I thought several of the women sitting around me were going to melt into quivering pools of gelatinous petroleum products.

I spent much of the night watching Mackay and believe me it wasn't easy - nothing to with his looks mind you. Despite wearing all purple, he was hard to keep tabs on, seemingly able to disappear and re-appear at will, like a ninja with a saxophone, moving in and out of the light like a stone-faced shape-shifter and blowing some amazing solos. Setwise, the band seemed to recognize its strengths, tipping the song selection more toward the genuinely odd early stuff which original keyboardist Brian Eno (here supplanted by Colin Good) used to interrupt with weirdo sonic injections ("In Every Dream Home A Heartache," "Virginia Plain," "Editions Of You," "Do The Strand") and away from Ferry's sultry AOR/white faux soul thang, although "Avalon" and "Dance Away" made the cut. Bassist Mark Smith and Thompson sounded as if they were fused at the hip and Louise Peacock made the violin solo originally played on the studio version of "Out Of The Blue" by Eddie Jobson her own. For me, the albums up to

and including "Siren" remain the band's high water mark. Being partly responsible for Duran Duran is their nadir. Unfortunately, due to some ridiculous noise ordinance which kicked in at 10:30 p.m., Roxy Music was only able to play for about 90 minutes when they could just as easily have played for twice that. Seemingly taken aback by the adulation shown by a city with a legendary affinity for all things loud, fast and rough, even Mackay finally cracked a smile as each member of the band, in turn, simply stopped playing their instrument, laid it down on stage, and exited stage right during the night's final encore "For Your Pleasure."

As we walked into the VIP lounge for one last pop before hitting the road, the DJ set up in there slapped on Sweet's "A.C.D.C." and I started thinking about heading for a casino rather than home to bed. Something weird happened to me that night. If you believe in mystical hippie bullshit like astrology, you might say the planets were aligned just right. All I know is that for a couple hours on the side of a hill out in the country about halfway between Detroit and Flint, I had the most fun I've had at a concert since oh, I saw The Blasters during the early 80's. At this rate, I'm on target for my next great show right around the time the social security checks start rolling in.