Bryan Ferry

I experienced one of those transcendent musical moments at the Santa Barbara Bowl Saturday (4/19/14): toward the end of a flawless concert Bryan Ferry segued from the hypnotic “Avalon” into the all-out, high-energy rock of “Love Is the Drug.” The three ladies and one man standing in front of me started bouncing uncontrollably, and we all competed to sing as loud as we could. While I have always liked the song, it was never on my Greatest Hits List, but Ferry’s band, and the Bowl setting, infused it with so much power that I am afraid to hear the song again on record – it will sound so thin and pale in comparison. Ferry himself was all elegant decadence (or decadent elegance), with chiseled good looks, a dark floral dinner jacket and just enough moves for a 69-year-old. His was not an oldies act – in fact he was here between gigs at Coachella – and he was not out of place with the much younger members of his group.

Tremendously popular in the U.K. but always a secondary figure in America, Ferry is part of an amazing cohort bred in late- and postwar Britain: born in the four-year span from 1943-47 were, just to pick out some very individual characters, Mick Jagger, Ray Davies, Bryan Ferry, David Bowie and Elton John, all of whom I have now seen. [P.S. Ferry’s performance of these songs at Coachella the weekend before, seen on YouTube, conveyed none of the abovementioned magic; but at the Bowl, there were 4,300 people there just to see him, in what I assume was a superior setting.]

The Soulless Midtown Men

The Midtown Men are four actors from the original cast of Jersey Boys, which they reminded the audience in the program and every time they talked. If you’re good, I’ve found, you don’t have to tell people you’re good; when that is the only thing you can talk about, then perhaps you aren’t. On the screen behind them as they sang were still photos of the MM rehearsing, quotes from rave reviews, the MM logo over and over, and the men on a bus featuring their ad. They also bragged about how many shows they had done. Their chatter was totally canned – so much so that when they mistakenly described “Build Me Up Buttercup” as a Marvin Gaye song, I took it not as ignorance but simply someone forgetting his lines. Even so, you’d think a show of ’60s rock music would overcome such quibbles. Unfortunately, all their performance did was ruin some good songs. The worst came first: the lead singer for the Four Seasons songs (who portrayed Joe Pesci, not Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys) sang in a hiccupy, nasal style that was, as they say, a bit “pitchy” except when in falsetto. All you could think was, how much better these songs were in the original version. The other songs were uniformly belted out in overly loud, harsh fashion, sacrificing the magic many of these songs contained. I say “many,” because the set list included some songs, notably “Happy Together,” that I didn’t need to hear again. This was ersatz rock, without an authentic note. I perhaps shouldn’t lay blame on the Granada, but I can’t imagine performers like the Midtown Men taking the stage of the Lobero – and coming a week after the disastrous Shen Yun “classic Chinese dance” I have to wonder who is the booker minding the store at this grand dame of Santa Barbara. (Full disclosure: we left halfway through the show.)