Bryan Ferry’s band elevates live show to something truly magical

Music the youthful elixir that keeps Bryan Ferry rocking, with help from a stellar eight-piece backing band.

Nick Krewen

Music, Special to the Star, Published on Fri Sep 26 2014

There’s strength in numbers.

You’ll get no argument from anyone that, on the very eve of his 69th birthday, Bryan Ferry was the star attraction of Thursday night’s sold-out Massey Hall show.

But the truth of the matter is that Ferry’s stellar eight-piece band played such an integral role in elevating the occasion from a great performance into something so truly magical that they almost earned equal billing in their own right.

Not only did they keep up with and sometimes surpass the Roxy Music frontman in terms of energy over the 85 minutes of material that leaned heavily on Ferry’s art rock group past — with the occasional nod to his soon-to-be-15-album solo career — but their joyful enthusiasm alone threw enough gasoline on the fire that the singer looked like a genius for hiring them.

It all added up to an infectious, celebratory evening of great music that pleased nostalgic Roxy enthusiasts to no end, as indicated from the opening blast of “Re-make/Re-model” from the band’s self-titled debut; Ferry would delve deep and often into the catalogue.

True, guitarist Jake Quistgaard is no Phil Manzanera and saxophonist/keyboardist Jorja Chalmers is no Andy Mackay, but they certainly provided enough fresh vigour with their own interpretations that — dare I say it — the mainstays weren’t missed.

Dressed in a floral tuxedo jacket and grey slacks, the lanky and dashing Ferry relished his time feeding off the vibe as well, swaying and rocking to the groove of the music as he slid into “Kiss And Tell” and “Slave to Love” while his two backing vocalists — Bobbie Gordon and Jodie Scantlebury — put on a show of their own with their well-timed, yet seemingly free-flowing choreography.

Fuelled by the propellant of firecracker drummer Cherisse Osei’s hammering beats, and the anchored support of veteran Ferry bassist Guy Pratt, the singer, who alternated between entertaining at the microphone and taking up residence at an electric piano for songs like “More Than This,” was buoyed by the interplay. His tremolo tenor, smoother these days, sounded as strong as ever, although truthfully, the overall sound mix could have been crisper.

But there were a number of times — whether it was a slower take on the Robert Palmer hit “Johnny and Mary” that’s due to appear on his upcoming November album Avonmore, or a slightly accelerated version of Avalon’s “Take A Chance With Me” — that Ferry seemed as lost in the music as his fervent, older audience, and ageless as he rocked the house with a spirited “Love Is the Drug” or a rugged “Virginia Plain.”

He may have been romantically linked to any number of beautiful models throughout his life, but clearly music is the mistress about whom Bryan Ferry remains most passionate.

If there was any complaint, it’s that the show could have gone on a little longer.

After an all-too-brief encore of covers that paired Wilbert Harrison’s “Let’s Stick Together” with a somewhat sombre rendition of John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy” brought the house to its feet again, Ferry and his merry band left the audience wanting more.

But one gets the feeling he’ll be back as long as his health holds and, for this concert, Ferry gave the impression that music is his youthful elixir.

Bryan Ferry’s band elevates live show to something truly magical | Toronto Star

A Nick Cave concert so riveting, it gets five stars out of four

Nick Cave repeatedly ventured as far into the crowd as his microphone cord would let him, staring deeply into the faces he was serenading.

Nick Krewen

Music, Published on Fri Aug 01 2014

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, July 31, 2014

How transcendent were Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds on Thursday night?

Let’s put it this way: there are singers who are passive, who prefer to stand behind a microphone and let their voice do all the heavy lifting, and there are singers that work the stage with a touch of athleticism and a strong helping of charm and charisma.

And then there’s Cave, the restless renegade Australian with his roguish baritone who fearlessly thrusts himself out into his admirers, venturing eight to 10 human rows deep, grabbing hands and beckoning his audience to join him on this animated two-hour journey as if he’s trying to absorb them into his very skin.

This wasn’t a gimmick or a one-time ploy: as Cave and his six Seeds twisted the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts inside out with a riveting performance that veered wildly between soft sentiment and eardrum-decimating fury, the dark-haired singer repeatedly ventured as far as his microphone cord would let him, staring deeply into the faces he was serenading and ending songs like “Tupelo” and “Stagger Lee” perched on top of a seat hundreds of feet from the stage.

Although his songs reference religion as often as romance, his public pulpit finds him playing the role of master storyteller. And Cave knows his own music so well that he adds dramatic impact through his body language.

When the concert kicked off with the slow beating drone of “We Real Cool,” Cave would stalk the stage and suddenly leap and dance between phrases, waving his arms to accentuate his mood and to partially conduct the band.

Occasionally he would plop himself down at the piano and play a few bars before jumping up and returning to the job of entertaining the audience, his attention-deficit disorder with the instrument lasting until the midway set, when he finally played a trio of songs that kicked off with No More Shall We Part’s tender ballad “Love Letter” and concluded with the same album’s “God Is in the House,” where Cave altered a line to humorously localize the flavour and include a reference to “a crackhead mayor.”

Cave wasn’t the only engaging performer worth his weight in performance gold: the Rasputin-like fiddler and flautist Warren Ellis had a few tricks of his own, like tucking a bow into his shirt collar while plucking his instrument then withdrawing it from behind his neck to revert to bowing. Ellis also sent the occasional bow sailing into the Sony Centre rafters, replacing it with a new one whenever the arrangement called for it.

Cave also won brownie points by refreshing his arrangements so they weren’t carbon copies of the record: “From Her To Eternity” took a more aggressive stance, and “Jubilee Street” exploded into a fire of calamity and cacophony about halfway through the number, thanks to the adept accompaniment of Bad Seeds Ellis, drummer, keyboardist and xylophone player Barry Adamson, drummer Jim Sclavunos, keyboardist Conway Savage, guitarist George Vjestica and bass player Martyn Casey.

As newer tunes like Push The Sky Away’s “Higgs Boson Blues” and vintage numbers such as “Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry” reminded the crowd of Cave’s extraordinary knack for incorporating rich imagery and master storytelling within a song, they simply couldn’t get enough of him, remaining on their feet the entire show, applauding and cheering him on and eventually being rewarded with a pair of well-deserved encores.

Nick Cave is one of those exhilarating, show-stopping performers that should be mandatory study for anyone considering a career in music performance and added to everyone else’s “must-see” list.

That’s why this show warranted the extra star added to its rating: Cave and his Bad Seed brethren earned it.

A Nick Cave concert so riveting, it gets five stars out of four | Toronto Star

The Residents take on death

If you think the TV series Lost is cryptic and enigmatic, get a load of The Residents.

 

 

Nick Krewen
Special To The Star,
 Published on Sat Feb 13 2010

If you think the TV series Lost is cryptic and enigmatic, get a load of The Residents.

For 38 years, the avant-garde California-based performance art collective – they’re most familiar to the masses as eyeballs dressed in top hats and tuxedos – has stunned and mystified audiences with a collection of more than 100 albums, EPs, singles, CD-ROMs, short films, DVDs and videos.

With an ever-morphing musical style that can veer from fiery rock ‘n’ roll to third-rate cabaret to synthesized dirge to dissonant jazz – often within the framework of a single song – The Residents, who make a rare Toronto appearance Saturday at The Opera House, have managed to evade categorization and compromise as effectively as they’ve shielded their identities and avoided the mainstream.

Even an exclusive phone interview with spokesman Hardy Fox – a representative of The Cryptic Corporation, the group’s management firm, and a person who may or may not be with the band – only sheds so much light.

“The group’s point of view is that they’re a group, they like to present themselves as a group and they’re very openly, in their presentation of themselves as a group, very active,” Fox said before a recent New York performance on The Residents’ current Talking Light tour.

“There’s not really anything mysterious about what they do or how they do it. They’re mysterious, perhaps, about the fact that they’re not so interested in strutting around as individuals and proclaiming a `look at me’ attitude. That is unusual, for sure, but I don’t know if it’s mysterious.”

Fox does acknowledge that the public is frustrated. “You’ve got a weird situation here, because people really want to turn The Residents into a band but often that doesn’t really work. The Residents is a much larger group of people that changes based upon the needs of the project. It’s not a band, it’s a concept, and that’s hard for people to wrap their heads around.”

Some of the songs, with names like “Harry the Head,” “Lizard Lady” and “What Have My Chickens Done Now?” aren’t any easier to digest, but one can certainly appreciate the ingenious satire in the murky depths of the collective’s musically sophisticated arrangements – so long as you’re willing to invest the time.

According to Fox, time is the one commodity that may be eluding The Residents as they move forward: death is one of the themes of the Talking Light multimedia road show. “There’s definitely mortality attached to it,” Fox explains.

“Mortality is attached to everything, really, and that’s one of the points that they make: that life is a cycle, and death is one of the parts of that cycle. It’s a thing to confront and accept, not to challenge or fight, because the big mystery of life is actually death.

“It’s a reflection on aging and death, which is sort of what is going on with The Residents, because they are getting older. And they’re sort of approaching death as a universal experience. So it’s a dark show, but sort of a lighthearted dark show, if that make any sense.”

Other things you may want to know: the Talking Lights tour – every performance of which is being sold digitally at www.residents.com – references material as far back as 1977 and now includes a cast of three instead of the four who usually make the rounds. “Yes, Carlos has retired,” Fox offers without any elaboration.

Despite their stature as counterculture “eye-cons,” The Residents have dropped the eyeball costumes.

“Actually, they were dropped 10 years ago,” Fox says.

“The whole eyeball thing was created for one album in 1979 (Eskimo). It just proved to be a popular image and we, on the commercial side of trying to market the group, sort of ran with it. From a marketing standpoint, we really needed an image.

“About 10 years ago, they thought it was time to at least back it off to an iconic image and not a mask image.”

Although images are an important part of The Residents’ oeuvre – check them out on YouTube if you’re curious – Fox has a different theory to explain the concept’s longevity.

“I think it has lasted because The Residents are not shy about evolving over time and reinventing themselves, about letting the requirements of a project be what’s important and not their past or any expectations of people.

“They don’t really have the expectations of performing a particular song that they’re known for, because they’re not really known for any.”