Howdy. I’m Gene, your guest reviewer for the evening. George and I have known each other since the mid-‘90s when we lived in the same neighborhood in Tucker, along with our friend Ed. The three of us have gone to quite a few concerts together, mostly at the Variety Playhouse or the old Music Midtown. Somewhere around the time we saw Wishbone Ash at the Variety a dozen years ago, we dubbed ourselves the “AHBs”, short for “asshole buddies”. If you know one of us, you know us all to some degree, and you will probably have no trouble understanding the relevance of the sobriquet!
This past Sunday my wife Terry and I drove to Nashville to spend some time seeing what had become of the city where she went to school (Vanderbilt University, class of ’73). We met up with our longtime friends and frequent travel buds Anne and Lane, from Florence, SC. A couple of years back we’d all gone to Parklife 2014 at Atlantic Station in Atlanta to see a bunch of artists I’d never heard of: Jake Bugg, The Lone Bellow, The Wild Feathers, The Weeks, The Shadowboxers, and LP. It was a pretty eclectic group, and we had a good time sitting in the shade in the common area on a hot, potentially stormy Sunday afternoon in September. Our friends fell in love with LP (Laura Pergolizzi), a pop/rock artist out of Los Angeles with a powerful voice who occasionally incorporates not-lame whistling into her songs. When they saw she was going to be in Nashville on August 2nd, they asked us if we wanted to see the city and the concert and we said sure. Now I liked LP well enough, but if I’d never seen her perform again I would have lived the rest of my life without regret (at least that one). So this concert was our friends’ deal, and I didn’t bother to ask about the venue or what other artists might be on the bill until we got to Nashville. (I can be very accommodating…sometimes.) It was then they told me it was at the Ryman Auditorium and she was opening for Bryan Ferry. Hey, I thought, this could be pretty good. I was cool enough to own Roxy Music’s first two albums…ON VINYL!! I liked Roxy Music and For Your Pleasure a lot. But I wasn’t cool enough to own any of their other albums in any format, nor had I closely followed any of the group members’ subsequent careers. I knew a little of Ferry’s solo work like “Kiss and Tell”, but that was about it.
So Tuesday night rolled around and we strolled from the place we were staying past the Ryman and landed next door in the basement of Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, an historic country music venue opened in 1960 and located smack dab on Broadway, which if it didn’t have vehicle traffic would remind many of a countrified Bourbon Street. We had a drink and listened to one of the many bands doing a set for free at one of the clubs, working for tips, then we made our way across the alley to the Ryman, home of the Grand Ole Opry from 1943 to 1974. Now THIS was exciting. I would never be mistaken for a fan of country music, but this place has a history that extends well beyond that genre. Johnny Cash’s show was filmed mostly here in 1969-1971, and he hosted a plethora of folks the majority would never mistake for “country” artists: Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Joe Tex, James Taylor, Melanie, CCR, Arlo Guthrie, Ray Charles, Derek & the Dominoes, Neil Diamond. The list goes on, but I will mention just two more: The Cowsills and Pat Boone!! Today it hosts many types of shows; Coldplay, Foo Fighters and Ringo Starr have all performed at the Ryman.
The venue itself is pretty cool. Seating just under 2500, it feels pretty intimate for a place its size. Opened as the Union Gospel Tabernacle in 1892 and revived and renovated in the early ‘90s, it has what I can only describe as unpadded wooden church pews for seating. Fortunately, they weren’t as hard on the back and butt as I thought they would be, and the Ryman folks do a good job of making sure people aren’t shoehorned into the reserved seats, giving you room to squirm and get more comfortable, even if you are still pretty close to your neighbors on either side. Our seats were in the balcony, almost dead center about three rows from the top, and yet still only 10 rows or so from the front edge. We had a great view of the night’s event.
Things started on time at 7:30. LP came on with her three-piece band and rocked through a set of 6 or 7 songs (I didn’t keep exact count. Sue me.). During her set I got an idea that tonight might be a little special. While some seats were still unoccupied, for the most part the house was full, and I’m sure most of the folks in attendance were there to see BF, not LP. And yet, each of her songs was received enthusiastically by the mostly middle-aged or older audience. I mean, really enthusiastically, compared to what you see for the vast majority of more or less unknown opening acts. She even got a well-deserved partial standing ovation at the end of her set.
She was off stage at 8:00, and while my wife and friends went out front to wait to meet LP, I watched the (minimal) setup required for Ferry. The Ryman’s stage is large, so much of the band’s equipment was already in place. When not watching that, I looked again at the latest playlists for Ferry posted on setlist.fm, struck by the fact that I was hopefully going to hear the same thing audiences in Boston and New York had just heard, somewhere around 24 songs, including favorites like “In Every Dream Home a Heartache”, “Editions of You”, “Love is the Drug”, and “Avalon”.
At 8:00, Ferry’s band made its way onstage to a good amount of applause. It consisted of three guitarists, a bassist, a keyboardist, a saxophonist/keyboardist, an electric violinist/keyboardist, a drummer and two backup singers. When they were ready, Ferry strolled on to the stage, and the place erupted with the first of many ovations. The band got right to it, opening with “Avonmore”, from his 2014 album of the same name, then “Slave to Love” and “Don’t Stop the Dance” before moving into Roxy territory with “Beauty Queen” from For Your Pleasure and “Ladytron” from Roxy Music. As the set continued, I decided that Ferry’s band was topnotch all the way through. They were tight and enthusiastic and played with real style. I was loving this, regardless of whether or not I knew the songs a lot, a little or not at all.
Ferry seemed in good form, not a lot of extra motion (hell, he IS almost 71, after all), but you’ll be disappointed if want an analysis of how much different or worse his voice sounds compared to his heyday, because this is the only time I’ve seen him. All I can say is he sounded pretty damn good to me. On several songs, he became another keyboardist, but for the most part he simply sang. His stage banter was minimal, mostly consisting of “thank you”, but he waved and smiled after every song, and the crowd ate it up.
As much as I liked and enjoyed Ferry, it was his band that knocked me out. The ten-piece outfit really was exceptional, in my mind. And they put up a hell of a wall of sound. Each member had his or her moment during the evening, but the clear frontrunners were Danish lead guitarist Jacob Quistgaard and drummer Luke Bullen. (My thanks to the website VivaRoxyMusic.com for helping me identify band members. While Ferry introduced each individually, it was hard to hear with all the applause.). But after Ferry, the star of the night was, hands down, multi-instrumentalist Jorja Chalmers, playing a couple of different saxophones as well as occasionally adding yet another keyboard to the mix. Slender and stylish, dressed all in black (an appropriate color for the venue and the city), she often moved front and center for her solos, and the audience always responded loudly and enthusiastically.
As I mentioned earlier, the demeanor of the crowd made me think this might be a special night in the way they responded to LP. Well, that was nothing compared to how they responded to BF and band. Each song received loud, sustained applause and cheers, something I have not seen at a concert in a long time, and many songs, like “Love is the Drug” and “In Every Dream Home a Heartache”, garnered standing ovations.
My favorite numbers:
The instrumental “Tara”, occurring about halfway through and allowing most of the band a short break, as the only performers on stage were Chalmers on sax, Quisgaard, and primary keyboardist Paul Beard. The song was haunting, with each of the three having extended solos.
“In Every Dream Home a Heartache”; after the eerie Ferry vocals over the 70s-appropriate organ dirge, when he finished with “I blew up your body…but you blew my mind” and the band kicked in (hard) on the mostly-instrumental finishing piece, the place exploded.
“Love is the Drug”, a real foot-stomper if there ever was one.
After 21 songs, Ferry left the stage to thunderous applause, but of course everyone knew there would be what has become the now-automatic encore that occurs regardless of how hard the audience urges the artist to return. But of course in this case the audience REALLY wanted the artist to come back, and since his band did not take a step towards the exit, everyone knew BF would reappear. He ripped through a strong three-song encore: covers of Wilbert Harrison’s “Let’s Stick Together” and John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy” (he did a pretty good job on the whistling parts of that song, but I think LP could have done it better!) and Roxy standard “Do the Strand”. Then it was over. Except…Ferry walked off stage to more huge applause and yet another standing O, then returned for one last song, another Roxy piece, “Both Ends Burning”. And then it really was over, after 25 songs and an hour and forty-five minutes of non-stop music. Ferry and his band appreciatively acknowledged the applause before leaving the stage
a final time, and we left the Ryman, heading to Broadway once again, this time to Mike’s Ice Cream to do a little snacking and a little people watching.
My only disappointment: no rendition of “Editions of You”, one of my favorite Roxy songs. It was replaced by “Do the Strand’, a pretty damn good song as well. Hey, you can’t have everything, right?
If I had to grade this concert I’d give it 5 out of 5 stars. Great venue, great opening act, great main act. And to think I didn’t even know much about this concert until 48 hours before it started! All in all, a truly unexpected pleasure.
Thanks to George for giving me the opportunity to review this show on his forum.