There was nothing wrong with Bryan Ferry’s Monday show at Strathmore that couldn’t have been fixed by a twenty-something Brian Eno. But Eno, Ferry’s foil in the early days of Roxy Music, hasn’t performed with Ferry in years. At this sold-out concert, the singer was backed by a ten-piece band (plus two gyrating showgirls) that supported him impeccably but unchallengingly.
This was Ferry’s first D.C. area visit since his latest release, 2010’s “Olympia,” but he barely acknowledged that album. Instead, the singer presented two sets of greatest cult hits, featuring such Roxy Music standards as “Avalon” but heavy on other people’s tunes he’s claimed as his own. Ferry wore a black suit and tie — white shirt for the first hour, black for the second — and performed R & B stompers (Wilbert Harrison’s “Let’s Stick Together”) and craggy rockers (Neil Young’s “Like a Hurricane”) as if they were cut from the same Savile Row cloth as his urbane originals.
The resulting performance was polished and stately, but without many peaks. Ferry had more band than he really needed, including Roxy drummer Paul Thompson, two lead guitarists, four backup singers and — sometimes, when Ferry himself joined in — three keyboardists. The smooth, plump sound often smothered the songs. (Some of the problem was probably the hall itself; Strathmore’s acoustics are not especially congenial to electric instruments.) The group sounded best when it held back, giving guitarists Chris Spedding and Oliver Thompson or saxophonist Jorja Chalmers room to flex.
As the scantily clad dancers indicated, the irony has drained from Ferry’s act. His wink at bygone notions of glamour and romance has become a languorous embrace, tempered only by up-tempo songs (mostly not his own) and arena-rock guitar solos. Ferry looked good and, when fully audible, sounded fine; his versions of “Love is the Drug” and “Jealous Guy” were lively and crowd-pleasing. At 66, that may be enough. But there was a time when Ferry sought to provoke as well as entertain.