Three Melodic Pop Singers Ignite New York Crowds
On tour, Bryan Ferry unites irony with romance, Basia puts over her catchy tunes, and Huey Lewis celebrates the heart of rock-and-roll
NEW YORK — BRYAN FERRY At the Beacon Theater. BASIA At the Neil Simon Theatre. HUEY LEWIS & THE NEWS At the Beacon Theater.
Bryan Ferry starts off his first concert tour in seven years with the classic Screaming Jay Hawkins tune, ``I Put a Spell on You.'' The singer then proceeds to make good on his promise.
Ferry, in both his solo career and his work with the group Roxy Music, has long pulled listeners into his world with his swirling, seductive mood music. His new album, ``Mamouna,'' is another atmospheric blend that, the more you listen to it, the more its insinuating grooves weave their spell.
The album features such notable players as Nile Rodgers, Nathan East, and Maceo Parker. It also serves as a sort of Roxy Music reunion, as it features Phil Manaznera (guitar), Andy Mackay (sax), and Brian Eno. Eno is credited with such contributions as ``sonic awareness,'' ``sonic distress,'' and ``swoop treatments.'' While one can only guess at what these mean, there is no doubt that the music has a sensual richness and texture.
In concert, of course, much of this texture is lost (although less with this show than with most concerts). But fortunately the songs were given an added rhythmic punch by a crack six-piece band that helped put them over despite their sometimes flimsy melodies.
Tall, dark, and lanky, Ferry is a romantic rock idol, and as he hunched his shoulders in rapt concentration and crooned his way through expressions of tortured or compulsive love, he seems an almost Byronic figure. His exoticism was accentuated by the set, a huge Arabic tent that framed the stage, and by the fragrant incense that constantly spewed out of a black pot.
Ferry performed generous selections from the new album, past solo hits like ``Slave to Love,'' and also such classic Roxy Music tracks as the hard-rocking ``Do the Stand,'' ``In Every Dream Home a Heartache,'' ``Love is the Drug,'' and ``Avalon.'' In all of them, he blended his carefully honed brand of irony with an air of romantic desperation.
The Polish-born singer Basia (last name Trzetrzelewska) has become a star to the VH-1 crowd with her canny blend of jazz and pop, featuring Brazilian influences that make her an heir to Astrud Gilberto (``Girl From Ipanema''). Indeed, Basia's first hit, ``Time and Tide,'' from her debut album, had a jaunty bossa-nova beat and a melody that at first hearing sounded like a standard.
Basia has refined the sound in her second and third albums, which boast greater production values although not as memorable tunes.
But her music is catchy and melodic (she co-writes most of it with her collaborator and producer, Danny White). Her vocal powers are also substantial, as she has the ability to glide effortlessly between quiet harmonizing and diva-like belting on the high notes.
As part of the current tour to promote her latest recording, ``The Sweetest Illusion,'' Basia touched down on Broadway for a two-week engagement, where her fans were all too eager to shell out $65 a ticket. Starting off with the title track, the singer, resplendent in a black satin suit, performed with ultraenthusiasm, constantly moving about the stage and kicking her legs during the up-tempo numbers.
Her live music corresponded strongly with the recorded versions, with the exception of numerous lively instrumental solos by her proficient band. Using backup singers to approximate the multitracks of the records, she even managed to replicate the soaring harmonies of a number like ``Yearning.'' An extended version of ``Time and Tide'' was superb, a highlight of the show. And a first-rate horn section enlivened the new song ``More Fire Than Flame.''
With her accent, Basia's vocalizing often leaves one wondering about lyrics on the recording, and in concert the murkiness was even worse.
But the vibrancy of her music kept the evening lively, especially when the singer invited the audience to get up and dance during ``Drunk on Love,'' and they happily complied.
Basia is a singer more than willing to please; she even passed out candy to the crowd at one point. If her eagerness for accessibility robs her music of any deeper resonance, her audience doesn't seem to mind.
Huey Lewis & the News is like a great club band that made the proverbial deal with the devil, and in return achieved an amazing string of hits that dominated radio in the mid-1980s. That contract must have had an expiration date, because suddenly no matter what the band did, they couldn't make a dent on the charts.
That situation hasn't changed much with their newest release, a recording of covers of rock standards entitled ``Four Chords & Several Years Ago.'' On disc, their versions of such classics as ``Shake Rattle and Roll,'' ``Blue Monday,'' ``(She's) Some Kind of Wonderful,'' ``Stagger Lee,'' and ``Little Bitty Pretty One'' are fairly pallid. But in concert the group demonstrated their chops, and they came to life in a show that illustrated how good a band can get when they play together for two decades. In Lewis they have the perfect front man, a handsome, husky-voiced singer with charisma to spare.
A good horn section is always welcome, and the News had a killer one that added punch to even the routine material. But the band proved their mettle even performing a cappella, with the lovely ``But It's Alright.''
Everyone involved seemed to be having a great time performing the material that obviously inspired them. Lewis didn't miss an opportunity to provide a little factual background about the music they were performing.
Needless to say, they didn't ignore their radio-friendly hits. At one point Lewis said, ``I know what you're thinking. The old boy may be barely breathing ... but the heart of rock-and-roll is still beating.''
With Lewis playing his harmonica and the band launching into one of its biggest smashes, the crowd was soon on its feet. It stayed that way through ``I Want a New Drug,'' ``The Power of Love,'' and many of his other rollicking tunes.