Barry Manilow knows how to make an entrance. It seems to me now that there were red curtains and searchlights involved although I couldn’t swear to that. I do know that he played “It’s a Miracle” as his opening number and mentioned that there was “so much music, we may be here all night long.” It is possible that my heart sank a bit at this statement.
Because at first, I felt like I’d taken several tablets of Valium by accident. I’m not as familiar with Manilow’s work as I could be and came to see the show mostly on a lark (and with a strong will to finally see “Copacabana” performed live). The mellow ’70s-style rocking; the crowds of slightly overweight, 50-year-old, Disciples-of-Christ-attending white folk; the parade of old hits from back in the day. This must be what Vegas is like, I thought. Throughout the stands the old folk waved red vials filled with glowing liquid. I’d seen the vials before the show, set out in bowls on little tables and not been quite sure what they were. Some kind of sugar drink sample, I assumed. But no, they were a type of glowstick. The old folk had known exactly what they were. My brain started to move fuzzily. Where was I? What year was it?
But then things took a turn for the better when Manilow really started talking to the crowd.
“Put up the cover to Even Now, Jimmy,” he said as if this whole thing hadn’t been carefully choreographed six and half months ago. And he really made it seem like it was fresh. He was just hanging out, chatting with several thousand people in a basketball arena. The cover from his 1978 album came up showing his profile as he stared at the skyline of New York City and he made some jokes about his nose, which is when I started to warm up to him. My attention focused. My chi started to feel better.
“It looks like one of the buildings,” he said, referring to his nose silhouetted against the city. I do love a guy with a self deprecating sense of humor. Especially when he has a pretty decent amount of material to brag about. He also mentioned that he was “the Justin Bieber of the ’70s.” Not exactly self deprecating, but fair enough. It helped me put him into context, which was exactly what he intended to do with people like me. The man can work some serious crowd. And his people had done plenty of research. He even knew that 2012 was the Year of the Dairy Cow at the Indiana State Fair, which was pretty exciting to all of us Hoosiers.
But it was the three ladies in front of me who ultimately won me over completely and made me a true convert to the Manilow way of life — a Fanilow, if you will. (You will, won’t you?) These lovely folks were comprised of mother, daughter, and granddaughter, who appeared to be named, of all that’s wonderful, Mandy, judging by the celebration that went on during that song.
Grandma was a bit on the frail side and had to sit down periodically, but the closing strains of the song “Even Now” brought her to her feet, actually pumping her right fist in the air. It was pretty fucking impressive.
Not long after that, he sang “I Am Your Child.” And this is what killed me. Not because the song is all that great; it’s not. The three ladies in front of me spent this entire song not just hugging but actually cuddling each other. I loved the rest of the concert.
And then the screen behind Manilow started showing a clip from back in the ‘70s. Manilow singing “Mandy” as a younger man. Manilow and his accompanists left the stage and I felt a little cheated until he returned and started belting out the tune himself, quite possibly in a new outfit. Since I’d been hoping above all else for a costume change during the show, I was a little disappointed with myself that I didn’t really register what he’d been wearing before and can’t confirm that the white jacket he returned in was new.
I can confirm that “Copacabana” didn’t live up to my expectations, especially as the screen showed a weird assortment of dancing fruit with an odd emphasis on pomegranates.
But he closed out with greatness. “I Write the Songs” had even me singing along and the awesome ladies in front of me were all on their feet swaying back and forth together excitedly. And then that shit ended with streamers. I looked up in amazement as the glittering strands fell toward me, never touching me. Around me the crowds of old ladies were gathering them up and rolling them into balls like industrious little rats at nest-building time. As I walked out I almost stopped and asked one of them what they were going to do with their prizes. But I felt like knowing would ruin it for me. Instead I walked out smiling.
I love them. I love Barry Manilow. I love life.