In early 1974, Bryan Ferry was on an amazing roll. Roxy Music were at their height, carving out their unique, glammy art-rock space as they made great albums at a yearly clip. (Later in 1974, they’d release one of their finest in Country Life.) At the same time, Ferry was putting out his own solo records, starting with 1973’s near-perfect covers collection These Foolish Things. Just as Ferry’s tuxedoed smoothness and Old World charm stood out among the grease-haired prog-rockers of the era like Jay Gatsby hanging out at the Isle of Lucy Blues Jazz Festival, his solo music was completely in its own visionary world. Today, mixing serious rock (“A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”), Sixties pop (“It’s My Party”), and pre-rock and roll standards (“These Foolish Things”) doesn’t seem that radical. But at the time, treating Leslie Gore and Bob Dylan as if they were just part of the same continuum of good-time oldies was a sly, subversive gesture.
Ferry’s new Live At the Royal Albert Hall — recorded in 1974 between the release of These Foolish Things and its followup Another Time, Another Place —is a must-hear snapshot of one of the Seventies’ finest artists on an absolute tear. The crowd is amped, the band (featuring Roxy guitarist Phil Manzanera and drummer Paul Thompson and augmented by string and horn sections) is on fire, and Ferry’s performance is perfect, a demolition sashay through a rock and roll canon of his own making — whether he’s strutting through a funky take on the Beatles’ “You Won’t See Me,” getting way down against John Porter’s boogie wonderland bass on Ike and Tine Turner’s “Fingerpoppin’,” doing a wired proto-punk pogo through “You’re So Square,” or deepening the sad girl-group soul in the Beach Boys’ “Don’t Worry Baby.”
The highlight might be Ferry’s show-opening race through the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil,” all diabolical swing and Continental cool, as if Lucifer is riding his tank through a casino in Monte Carlo. Hear it here.