To understand why I drove almost 700 miles in two days to see Barry Manilow perform in Las Vegas, I offer this clip from Family Guy:
So to recap: Four macho men of a certain age sitting around feeding their beer guts poke fun at an upcoming Manilow concert. They all declare they wouldn’t be caught dead at such a spectacle. But by the end of the skit, they’re coming out of the closet (musically, anyway), confessing they’ve always been huge fans, and they just have to go!
Seems like it’s been that way ever since Manilow burst onto the music scene more than 30 years ago — actually, closer to 40. (Long before American Idol, America’s Got Talent, And So Does Every Other Country.) No baby boomers I know ever admit to liking him; yet they all know his songs.
In fact, just writing about him has me automatically humming them. They slyly wrap around my brain and refuse to leave. I need a Cee Lo chaser.
I wasn’t sure what to expect at the Paris Hotel and Casino concert. I was simply looking forward to the prospect of experiencing Vegas in all its theme-park glory. To see a onetime American Idol and do a little time travel back to being 20, when I thought I’d never change. I had no idea he was still performing until I saw him on the hotel website.
Once there, it didn’t take any effort to, as he still croons, try to get the feeling.
The moment he burst onto the stage, it was 1975 again. At first glance, he still had a boyish quality, doing the moves with coquettish, luscious female backups and plugging a new CD.
The oldies just kept on coming. Though some in the audience sat there like zombies, more were jack-in-the-boxes, giving standing ovations for old standbys “Mandy,” “Looks Like We Made It,” “Even Now,” “It’s a Miracle” and “Can’t Smile Without You.” I made an artistic allowance for the smiley face in the background for the last (at least it wasn’t a bouncing ball), and I found myself swept up: wistful one minute and then bouncing in my seat like a bobblehead. Yes, yes, he was still the guy who wrote the songs that make the whole world sing.
I confess I was kvelling when he hearkened back to his Brooklyn roots and dedicated “This One’s For You” to his granddad, as pictures of the two bonding popped up. The voice, though not quite as forceful as it once was, was strong enough.
Another number was manipulative, but moving nonetheless. It started with a clip of him filling the stage, as a rising young ’70s star singing “Could It Be Magic.” Pan to the current Manilow at the piano onstage, picking up the lyrics, and then continuing the duet with the youngster in the clip.
But the mood seemed to shift when he introduced a tune from his new album, 15 Minutes. He explained it’s about fame as seen through the eyes of a young, gifted musician. The cut from it was thoughtful. (In a recent interview, the former jingle-writer says he was fascinated by the American Idol phenomenon that transformed nobodies into instant stars. He could certainly relate. So he challenged himself to stay relevant and write something more than the usual “I miss you, I love you” songs.)
But the crowd wasn’t on its feet this time. And when he sang a Gershwin classic done by many (including Sinatra), “Our Love is Here to Stay,” it fell flat. His voice just couldn’t measure up.
The voltage amped up some with the “Copacabana” — natch — grand finale. But by then it was getting toward 9 o’clock, past bedtime for some, including possibly, Peter Pan. On closer inspection, the eternally youthful Manilow was really a 60-something-year-old guy (in 2002, he told Larry King he was in his late 50s) who, it’s been rumored, has had more reconstruction than the South after the Civil War. Who knows? And he was doing some pretty hot dance moves with the backup entertainers who were young enough to be his daughters, if not his granddaughters. With the help of hip surgery, I’d read.
Ya know what? A rumored nip here; a tuck there; who really cares? Was was important — imperative — to those of us in the same age bracket was that he not age; that he be just as we remembered. Because then we could all delude ourselves into thinking we hadn’t changed either.
But some wheelchairs off to the side in the theater said otherwise.
Well, if I should live so long — as my Nanny Annie used to say — my next concert will be Old Lady Gaga’s.