Nowhere is the culture’s continued coarsening felt more acutely than at a Barry Manilow concert.
There is no danger here, no chance that anything remotely offensive will happen — Manilow’s days of working even slightly blue are long past — and there is safety in numbers.
A Barry Manilow concert is a room full of almost exclusively Caucasian men and women, singing back the soft rock and Broadway-shaded pop songs they’ve hummed along to their entire lives.
It is a warm, comforting experience, like being gently dipped into a bowl of homemade oatmeal for 90 minutes.
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It is also, if the ticket stub is to be believed, an experience Manilow’s fans won’t be able to get much of going forward. “One Last Time!” trumpeted the slips of paper clutched by the several thousand filing into American Airlines Center Thursday night.
While the final farewell tour (no, really — this is the last tour, we swear!) is something of a cliche for Artists of a Certain Vintage, there is a sense, watching the 72-year-old Manilow capering gamely across the gargantuan stage that, although his spirit is certainly willing, the flesh may be growing weak.
Not that Thursday’s performance betrayed a diminished stature, or any trace of whatever malady forced the cancellation of shows last weekend.
Manilow, when he isn’t gliding along the foot of the stage, waving and gesturing, one hand clutching a microphone, sits ramrod-straight on the piano bench, his taut features ejecting the supple syllables that made him a superstar: Daybreak; Looks Like We Made It; Even Now; Weekend in New England; Mandy — they all tumble forward, borne aloft by a thousands-strong sing-along.
The whole set list (even its medley, which crams 12 songs into about 15 minutes) is polished to a high gloss shine, evidence of Manilow’s many years working the Vegas Strip — the staging, from its opulent red velvet curtains to its dozen musicians arrayed on platforms behind him and strategically placed video screens, gave the American Airlines Center a cozy intimacy — and his decades spent crooning for adoring crowds: “How many times have I been here?” he asked Thursday, as I’m sure he must every night in every city on every tour. “It feels like home.”
And it did — the embrace of the familiar, the calming glow of nostalgia (literally, in the case of what he described as a “dead duet” with the disembodied voice of Judy Garland on Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart) and the sense that, for a time, the world and all its problems were at bay outside the arena doors.
Singer-songwriter showmen like Manilow are an endangered species in the 21st century — Manilow’s rendition of Mandy opened with footage of him performing on the 1975 TV program The Midnight Special; even the notion of such an eclectic, performance-driven show is a relic these days.
Watching him work Thursday was to be reminded that, for all the advances and changes and differences in the music industry from then until now, sometimes, you just want what Manilow called a “nice groove and great melody and a really good story.”