Bob Lefstez on The Hollywood Bowl show

Bob Lefsetz is an American music industry analyst and critic, and author of the hugely popular email newsletter and blog, the Lefsetz Letter.

Here is Bob’s take on Bryan’s show at The Hollywood Bowl, August 26th 2017:


You go to a show and know they’re never going to play your favorite song, the one you need to hear, the album track from decades before, especially a driving, electronic number sans strings, at least the real thing.

But after the conductor’s introduction, Bryan Ferry entered from stage left and the assembled multitude lit into THE MAIN THING!

I couldn’t believe it. It’s like my brain left my body and hovered above in amazement, purely stunned that a track I thought I’d NEVER hear live was emanating from the bandstand with a glory heretofore unknown, it took the original and added power and levitated not only the song, but the audience.

Roxy Music were never superstars over here. They were a cult item with some songs on FM radio when that level of achievement still existed. Then they broke up and got back together and just before they called it a day once again they dropped an LP so out of time, so different from what was being played on the burgeoning MTV, it was completely overlooked.

That album was entitled “Avalon.” A record with no hits that eventually became the soundtrack to more trysts than the work of any of today’s crooners, John Legend, R. Kelly, they’re not even in the same LEAGUE!

You see Roxy Music had a big enough audience that “Avalon” wasn’t completely stiff upon release, fans bought it and spun it, because that’s what you did, played the album of your favorites a few times before discarding it, since you’d paid for it, but in this case, around play two or three, the sound penetrated, a door opened and you were let into a world so exquisite you couldn’t stop telling everybody about it. It became a secret code, a sound you heard in living rooms, in bedrooms, despite no hosannas from the press or buttons pushed at radio. Back before CDs, I’d put the Technics on endless repeat, you can do that with turntables, as I cavorted on the couch, in the bedroom nearby, as I engaged in a world of sensuality with my partner. “Avalon” is the preferred romantic soundtrack of the baby boomers. And they were in attendance last night.

Now you always started with the first side, but it’s the second that contained the track that grabbed me first, “To Turn You On,” and since I needed to hear that I’d drop the needle on side two and the first song to emanate from the JBLs was…

“The Main Thing.”

Some songs take a while to get, they’re not your immediate favorites, but over time they become so, sometimes over years, the song I needed to hear again and again from “Avalon” as the decades plowed on was “The Main Thing.”

“Look at my hand
There’s a soul on fire
You can lead me even higher”

I hadn’t seen Bryan Ferry since the “In Your Mind” tour, back at the Santa Monica Civic. He’s exotic, off the radar screen, but if you’re a fan to see him is to go someplace just as important as that of the purveyors of hits, and just as worthy.

So he’s got his ten piece band, with Chris Spedding shredding and two women blowing and backup singers wailing and the orchestra is adding emphasis and you’re listening and you’re telling yourself…THERE’S NO PLACE I’D RATHER BE!

And then came “Slave To Love.”

That’s right, Bryan was playing songs we knew by heart that eluded others, all the album cuts, all the covers we spent time listening to when that was still a thing, when music was not plentiful and you made your choices and stayed with them, dove deep.

And then came another hurrah.

I got turned on to Roxy Music in London. Back in the summer of ’72. The country was ahead musically, it’s still ahead musically. The biggest acts, on victory laps, were T. Rex and David Bowie, they were all over the weekly papers, but there was this nascent act whose record was being played over the in-house sound system at Virgin Records, Roxy Music, I bought it, with its shiny cover and no shrinkwrap. My two favorite songs were on the first side, “If There Was Something,” which hooked me in the store, and “Ladytron.”

“Lady if you want to find a lover
Then you look no further
For I’m gonna be your only”

But as much as the lyrics hook you, it’s the instrumentation that puts the song over the top, and there was this lithe, slinky woman Jorja Chalmers blowing like she was possessed and you felt like you were on a spaceship to MARS! How could this be happening? How could Bryan be going back to his very first album, how could he be playing what I so needed to hear but didn’t expect to?

And Ferry has made a side career of covers. I remember buying “These Foolish Things” after graduating from college and my father opening the door to my room to sing along to the title track, AND HE NEVER DID THAT, never to one of my records.

So we were granted a twisted take on Bob Dylan’s “Simple Twist Of Fate,” which was better than anything the bard has done in years.

But my personal piece-de-resistance was “Can’t Let Go,” from Bryan’s 1978 LP “The Bride Stripped Bare.”

“It’s a winding road from Cuesta Way
Down Sunset to the beach”

As in SUNSET BOULEVARD! I was in law school, the only thing that got me through was my records. I was a transplant from the east coast, Ferry was in from the U.K., the reference resonated, and it did last night, here I was in SoCal at the Hollywood Bowl with my hero, how much better could it be?

And then back to where we started, with “Avalon.”

“I could feel at the time
There was no way of knowing”

That thirty five years would pass, music would become a second-class citizen dominated by disposable pop, yet the stars of yesteryear would still be plying the boards, wowing those who were there the first time through, as well as those who weren’t, the twentysomethings who jumped up and just had to dance.

It was truly more than this.

And then the title track of that vaunted LP and a killer rendition of “Love Is The Drug,” which finally led to airplay in the U.S., it was Roxy Music’s breakthrough, with the car starting in the beginning.

And then the band’s first hit in the U.K., “Virginia Plain.”

Which was followed by the opening track of the second LP, “Do The Strand.”

And then the finale, “Jealous Guy.”

It went nowhere when John Lennon released it, but when Bryan Ferry and his band recorded it, it went straight to number one in the U.K., as well as Australia and on Radio Luxembourg, as well as going Top Ten in eight other countries, but nada in the U.S.

Because the U.S. is bright and shiny, but oftentimes misses the plot, the subtlety of magic music.

“I was dreaming of the past”

Going to Burlington to buy “Stranded.” Seeing the women on the cover of the English version of “Country Life.” Listening to my own personal secret, “Oh Yeah.”

“And my heart was beating fast”

Just when you think you’re dead, that nothing can elevate your heartbeat anymore, you enter a space so comfortable and well known but foreign in your later years and it feels so good to be back home.

“I began to lose control”

But that really didn’t happen until afterward, at the Chateau Marmont, Bryan’s son Isaac implored me to come, he said he and his dad would be leaving the Bowl in five minutes.

That proved to be untrue. I ended up in the hotel lobby talking to an art dealer who told me that Bryan was a man of few words.

And then he arrived. The guy who’d just whistled on stage.

And we shook hands and…

He didn’t move on, he didn’t leave.

We talked about the show, we talked about his career, we talked about Broadway, and then Bryan Ferry told me he couldn’t wait to move on to something new.

I asked him what it was.

He laughed and said if he told me he couldn’t do it.

I exploded inside, told him that I understood, this was exactly how I felt, if I told someone what I was going to write, I couldn’t, write that is.

And then, after ten minutes had passed, I said I’d let him go, I knew he had to press other flesh.

But I felt like I’d been to the mountaintop, that I’d finally become an insider.

You see it’s about people. You wander through life feeling alone, that no one gets you. And then you have a conversation with someone and find out they’re just like you.

But I didn’t expect it to be Bryan Ferry.