Most of us got a taste for Bryan Ferry’s unique brand of songwriting and dramatic vocals back in the ’70s when he was frontman for Roxy Music and then with the solo albums he began issuing in 1973 while he was still with Roxy. My favorite solo project of the era was Another Time, Another Place (1974), which opened with the very hard-edged cover of “The In Crowd.”
When I saw the track list for the DVD concert called Live in Lyon, I was a bit disappointed to see “The In Crowd” wasn’t in the program. In short order, it was easy to see why such heavy tunes wouldn’t have fit the gig recorded at the ancient Roman amphitheatre in Lyon, France on July 25, 2011. For one matter, while Ferry was once notable for his powerful, belting and theatric delivery, his pipes have lost much of their thunder. Perhaps this was partially due to age. Perhaps it’s due to vocal training. On that night in Lyon, as with his more recent studio albums, Ferry’s voice was more restrained, more subtle, and more emotional.
For another matter, by 2011, Ferry had not only built a deep catalog of cover releases and original songs, he was promoting his new Olympia, a rather sophisticated collection that had come out the previous October. So he naturally wanted to plug songs from that project such as “You Can Dance,” “Alphaville,” and “Reason or Rhyme.” To make that connection even stronger, both the DVD and Blu-ray editions of Live in Lyon have The Making of Olympia documentary with new interviews and performances with guest artists including Nile Rodgers, Dave Stewart, Marcus Miller, David Gilmour, Flea, and The Scissor Sisters. Not surprisingly, the core of these performers would make strong contributions to the Lyon concert.
In fact, Ferry’s onstage Lyon show featured a 14-piece band with instrumentalists and singers, including two drummers, Andy Newmark & Ferry’s son, Tara. As Ferry claimed on the documentary, his primary collaborator was guitarist Oliver Thompson, even if fellow axeman Neil Hubbard was no slouch in helping to shape the sound. But onstage and in the studio, it was Ferry who was the mastermind, coaxed into going back to his keyboards to craft melodies while writing, revising, and refining his lyrics for a very contemporary sound.
Of course, before a live audience, Ferry has always been a virtual fashion model, the very image of tailored elegance. That elegance also permeates the music, even in cover songs like “I Put a Spell on You” (Screamin’ Jay Hawkins) and Bob Dylan’s “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,” which are textured, complex, and spacious rearrangements of the originals with guitarist Thompson adding soaring, fluid lead lines.
Of course, the 22 songs also include many familiar tunes from Ferry’s past like “Slave to Love,” “Don’t Stop The Dance,” and his cover of John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy,” which, oddly, is the concert’s final encore song. Naturally, Ferry can’t avoid revisiting Roxy days, so the set includes some carefully updated numbers like “If There Is Something” and “Avalon” (one of the tracks not on the CD version) and hastily knocked out versions of “Sign of the Times” and the obligatory “Love Is the Drug.” It should be noted that for songs that once required Ferry’s pumped-up vocals, like “Drug” and “Let’s Stick Together,” Ferry now has to call on his back-up singers to provide a chorus to harmonize on his more heavy duty signature numbers. Clearly, times have changed.
“Avalon” isn’t the only song that is present on the DVD but not on the CD version; you’ll need one of the other formats to see and hear “Tara” and “My Only Love.” If you really want to go all out, there are deluxe editions of the DVD, Blu-ray, and digital formats with a 72-page hardback edition with an embossed front cover and bonus CD of the concert. (Similar packages were also available for the original release of Olympia.)
So, any one of the new incarnations of Live in Lyon should please current Ferry fans, although you really should see this DVD version of the show. If you haven’t heard Ferry in some time, expect to be surprised by his quieter articulations. Sometimes he almost whispers his lyrics. But the man retains his classy style and knows how to surround himself with the best players art rock can offer. Not an indispensable concert, but a very listenable and watchable one.