“Why now?” you ask.
“Why not?” answers Roxy Music as the band reunites for a world tour after almost two decades during which the trends they started have only grown.
During a tour supporting his 1999 solo release, As Time Goes By, Bryan Ferry performed several songs from the Roxy Music catalog. After hearing them again, he longed to re-create the songs onstage with the guys he had recorded them with in the first place — the band that helped revolutionize experimental rock in the ’70s and the one he disbanded in 1983 to pursue a solo career. The Best of Roxy Music came out earlier this month and the Roxy Music reunion tour Michigan stop happens this weekend.
“It was just the right time really,” says Andy Mackay, one of the original members and the saxophonist-oboist who instilled a stylish grace in hits such as “Angel Eyes” and “Love is the Drug.” Countless promoters have proposed the idea of a reunion tour throughout the ’90s. And now with a renewed interest in many of the movements Roxy Music helped inspire — new romantic, Krautrock, retro-futurist style, glam rock and progressive dance music to name a few — the band’s relevance has hit a high point and they finally accepted an offer.
The only original member not represented on this tour is Brian Eno, who left Roxy Music in 1973 and went on to lead a super-successful production-recording career. Eno released Drawn From Life last month, an eerie, surreal collaboration with German percussionist J. Peter Schwalm. His absence from the tour really is something of a shame, since it was that tension between Ferry’s pop sensibilities and Eno’s unpop devotion that led to the tight nervous spark of the band’s earliest work. Alas, they’ll have to “Do The Strand” without him.
Even without Eno, the tour (which does feature early collaborator Phil Manzanera on guitar, as well as a host of other musicians) is shaping up to be one of the most successful they’ve ever done, Mackay says. Part of that, he explains, is because of the freedom they have with song choice and improved technology.
“We’re not doing any new material. There’s quite a big advantage to not having a new album out. If you do, you have to play material from the new album. This way, you can play the songs people like,” he laughs. “I’d say, at least, we’ve got a hundred of those songs to choose from. And we’ve chosen the ones we think the audience would like and the ones we like. It’s a chance to play from the entire age.”
Ferry and Eno aren’t the only Roxy originals who’ve kept busy musically outside of the band. Mackay released a few solo instrumental records of his own. And he worked with New York playwright Howard Schuman on a six-part television musical drama called “Rock Follies” in 1975. In addition to a few other TV projects, he wrote the book Electronic Music in 1981. After Roxy, Mackay and Manzanera began a new project called the Explorers. After writing and directing the music for another of Schuman’s plays, however, Mackay gave up music to become a full-time student.
“I went to university to study theology. It wasn’t a kind of priest training or anything. It was an academic thing,” he explains. “I became interested in the sort of questions that are difficult to answer, such as ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’ I was a bit fed up with music at that time. I just wanted a break. It worked out very well. I was still doing some music, bits and pieces, but not a great deal.”
The break came about because a few of the projects didn’t receive the success he had hoped, such as the Explorers project and the second collaboration with Schuman.
“I think just I had been doing it for a long time and there were one or two projects that I had been working on that didn’t really happen, that I had put lots of work into.”
Contemporary bands that Mackay finds interesting are the ones that forage into new sound territory and combine elements that in theory don’t seem like they’d work. He points to the repetitive crescendo chamber-rock instrumentals of Montreal’s Godspeed You Black Emperor! as an example. And he explains his own band’s success with making the avant popular as simply just having good songs.
“I think that’s actually what the secret is. If the tune is good, you can play around, do all sorts of things. You can really be much more experimental. If you just have experiments without good lyrics and a good song, it begins to kind of fall apart. That’s really where Roxy scored. Bryan writes great lyrics and good songs. We put a lot into songwriting. A lot gets rejected. There’s definitely an accordance of what actually gets used to how much was put into it. That gives us the chance to be a bit freer with other things.”
Is this reunion the final tour?
“It probably is,” Mackay said with a slight tone of lament. “I wouldn’t say we’ll never, ever do another date, ever. … But I don’t think you’d want to do that every year. It would get stale.”
As one of the most visually and sonically adventurous bands of the 20th century, it’s hard to imagine a stale Roxy Music. Surely that’s the last thing they’d want to put out there for the world to see.
And as time goes by, that’s all you can ask for.