The audience at the Sun Theatre in Anaheim on Wednesday seemed slightly baffled as Bryan Ferry stepped onstage and cheerfully delivered a buoyant version of Dorothy Fields and Jerome Kern's "The Way You Look Tonight." When the English singer hit the final notes and bowed with old-fashioned reverence, the mild round of applause seemed to come more from a desire to indulge his whims than out of any genuine enthusiasm.
Accompanied by a nine-piece jazz band and a string quartet, Ferry is touring to support "As Time Goes By," a new album that finds him paying homage to classy, sophisticated pop songs from the '30s. The program disappointed most of the fans, who were clearly eager to hear music from Ferry's solo career and his years with the seminal art-rock group Roxy Music.
Still, the opportunity to hear Ferry sing is always a delight. And when the program includes material from the likes of Cole Porter and Rodgers & Hart, and is delivered with the kind of zest and sophistication his orchestra exhibited, it's hard not to be swept away by the grandeur of it all.
Like Sting, Peter Gabriel and English cult figure Peter Hammill, Ferry has a highly distinctive voice that creates a universe of his own. His ultra-dramatic delivery evokes an almost baroque mood that suggests obsessive tenderness, angry irony and, at times, a little bit of both.
Ferry finally won the crowd at the end of the set when he played some Roxy Music songs, and the surprise was how close they sounded to the '30s classics. The somber "Sunset," from 1973's "Stranded," was positively opulent, while 1982's "Avalon" resurrected the austere beauty of Roxy's most ethereal moments. If anything, these interpretations suggested that in a decade plagued by unnecessary reunions, the world could certainly benefit from a new Roxy Music incarnation.