Music can be a time machine. No doubt that’s the force that helped former Roxy Music frontman Bryan Ferry draw a packed house to McCaw Hall Monday night.
Memories came alive before the British rocker’s voice had a chance to. Dressed in a leisure suit jacket and looking dapper at 68, Ferry looked the part of the star his fans remember.
But something was off. “Kiss And Tell,” from 1987’s “Bête Noire,” showed off his crisp band, but Ferry’s singing was flat and muddled.
In recent years, Ferry has wisely abandoned the soothing adult contemporary sound that became his trademark in favor of interesting projects like an album of Bob Dylan covers and “The Jazz Age,” a collection of Ferry’s hits played in the style of 1920s jazz. They fit his voice, which has become coarser and less predictable with age.
Despite this handicap, Ferry did his best to transport his fans across numerous points of the past four decades.
The Roxy Music hit “More Than This,” with its delicate synthesizer frame reinforced with chunky guitar riffs, got a huge cheer from the crowd and also happened to be one of the more sophisticated songs Ferry pulled off.
“In Every Dream Home a Heartache” provided a singular moment of real atmosphere, and the angry burst of howling guitars at the end felt cathartic. By the time Ferry launched into a pulsing version of Roxy Music’s funky 1975 single “Love Is the Drug” late in the show, both singer and audience had come alive.
But despite visiting the past, Ferry couldn’t recapture his youth. His voice, once luminous, was not up to the task on more than a few songs and was heavily supported by backup singers, who filled in the numerous gaps.
And there was something slightly incongruous about Ferry strutting around with a huge touring band half his age. Maybe that’s why the blazing guitar solo on “The Same Old Blues” made the song feel like rock music for people who don’t really like rock music.
But the jubilant couples dancing in their seats as Ferry closed his generous 90-minute set with “Running Wild” didn’t seem to mind. The time machine was working just fine, even when the music failed.