After a week filled with one horrific news event after another, a Barry Manilow concert was like an escape into some kind of soft pop time warp.
The New Yorker was an easy-listening throwback even while scoring his amazing string of hits between 1974 and 1983. Thanks to his legion of devoted Fanilows, he has endured three decades later, like Neil Diamond, as a rare middle-of-the-road arena headliner.
He appears to have made a quick recovery. He burst out in his shiny purple jacket showing no ill effects, dancing to thumping disco versions of “It’s a Miracle” and “Could it Be Magic.”
The Fanilows greeted him like kids at a rave, excitedly waving around their free glowsticks — a nice touch to go with the nice vibe.
The first few songs were unabashedly happy: “Looks Like We Made It” surging into “Can’t Smile Without You” and a swinging “Bandstand Boogie,” backed by an old clip of him on “American Bandstand.”
“Don’t you love these old songs?” he said “I never get tired of singing them. I hope you don’t get tired of hearing them.”
We can say unequivocally that, unless he’s a tremendous actor (and there’s no reason to think he is), Barry Manilow seemed generally delirious to be singing these old songs, from “Old Songs” to “Stay” to “This One’s for You” to “Weekend in New England.”
Looking at an old album cover on the screen, he cracked people up declaring, “I was the Justin Bieber of the ’70s. … Just ask your mother.”
Then he got into a heart-shaped contraption and flew over the audience … No, he didn’t do that! He’s 69, old school enough to know better, and has the stage personality to make it unnecessary.
You can bet his soaring vocal on “Even Now” had at least a few ladies maybe not high-fiving but looking at each other and saying, “Justin Bieber can’t do THAT.”
He was in great voice and funny all night, joking about his first album coming out in 1821 and how big his nose is. In a swinging version of “Brooklyn Blues,” he talked about growing up in a rough section of Brooklyn and being saved by the high school orchestra, which kept him out of gangs. “Can you imagine me joining a gang?” he said.
Not unless they wore sequins.
There are a lot of slick, snazzy, over-the-top moments in a Manilow show (“Trying’ to Get the Feeling Again” stands out), but there are heartfelt ones, too, especially his raw, spare version of “Somewhere Down the Road.”
Late in the set, he and his band brought out the big show-stoppers: “I Made it Through the Rain,” “Mandy” (with a malfunctioning vintage video), a more faithful “Could it Be Magic,” “Copacabana” and “I Write the Songs.”
Even the people who appeared to have been dragged there looked reasonably entertained, waving their glowstick and declared, And say “He still has it.”