Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Stayin' Power: With Fun, Poignant Tribute, Barry Gibb Keeps Brothers' Legacy Alive -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Barry Gibb
w/ opening act Jared & the Mill
United Center, Chicago
May 27, 2014

I loved the Bee Gees before I was old enough to know better.

Only 9 when Saturday Night Fever exploded onto the scene as the biggest cultural phenomenon since, well, Star Wars just a few months earlier, I happily enjoyed the mega-popular soundtrack album as well as the preceding Main Course, which my family bought subsequently.

At the time, I even liked the Bee Gees in the bad Sgt. Pepper's movie, and recall buying "Tragedy" as a 45 single.

I'm pretty certain that by the age of 10, I was also aware of the Bee Gees stellar early canon, including "Words," "New York Mining Disaster 1941," "To Love Somebody" and more.

But between Steve Dahl blowing up records at Comiskey Park--the first I heard of him but I soon became a fan--and the peer-pressuring of junior high, "disco" became something of a dirty word and the Bee Gees fell out of favor. 

To be fair, around the same time, they largely stopped putting out great hit records, and although I never saw the Bee Gees in concert, I also can't recall any time when I passed up a chance.

And even today, given that Barry Gibb's concert Tuesday night at the United Center--one of just six US dates of his Mythology tour--was less than half-full, it seems that the Bee Gees just don't have the stature they deserve.

But with a heavy dose of Bee Gees classics--and yes I long ago came to re-embrace the falsetto-laden Fever-era songs, as well as the early pop gems--plus several songs Barry wrote for others, over 2+ hours of music there wasn't a note I didn't like.

Opening strong with "Jive Talkin,'" "You Should Be Dancing" and "Lonely Days"--though it took awhile for the mix to be properly equalized--Gibb showed that he retains much of his impressive vocal range. 

At 67, he is no longer the cascadingly-coiffed Adonis he once was, and is the sole surviving Gibb brother, despite being the first-born. So the concert was something of a roller coaster--in terms of emotion, not quality--for the fans and seemingly Barry Gibb himself.

Songs like "Stayin' Alive," "Night Fever" and "Nights on Broadway" took us all back to the late 70s with a smile on our faces and a bounce in our butts, and despite a relatively sparse balcony crowd, I heard several "oh, shit, that's another great one" gasps when Gibb went into "To Love Somebody," "How Deep is Your Love," "Run to Me" and other blasts from the past.

But not only were the Bee Gees' glorious harmonies often notably absent despite a large band and trio of backup singers, Barry consistently reminded the crowd how much he missed his brothers.

He spoke of how Andy wanted to be in the Bee Gees but was too young, and performed a touching version of "Our Love (Don't Throw It All Away)," a hit Barry had written for his youngest brother and first to pass.

On other stops of the Mythology tour, Maurice Gibb's daughter Samantha has been on hand to honor her dad with "How Do You Mend a Broken Heart?" (clip here), but Barry explained that she was ill and regrettably unable to join him in singing the song at the United Center.

Barry first spoke of Robin in introducing "I've Gotta Get a Message to You," which Barry sang with his own son, Stephen, a guitarist on this tour.

Later, Barry began singing "I Started a Joke" but gave way to Robin's vocals as the latter appeared on a video screen to a great ovation. (clip from Boston show)

Not only did Barry graciously express his appreciation for his brothers, on a few occasions he ceded center stage to others, letting son Stephen sing "Our Time" and later, after dueting with the lovely Beth Cohen on "Islands in the Stream" and "Guilty," he had her take a powerful solo turn on "Woman in Love," written (like "Guilty") for Barbra Streisand.

Gibb also paid tribute to my favorite performer--and seemingly one of his--with a beautiful rendition of Bruce Springsteen's "I'm On Fire," (clip) because the Boss had recently covered "Stayin' Alive."

Although Gibb seemed entirely amiable and genuine, and the music was universally sublime, the concert felt a little too much like a scripted Las Vegas production show.

The 28-song setlist was terrifically curated, balanced and paced, so I am not complaining that it replicated Gibb's other tour stops, but I would have valued Barry recalling a Bee Gees visit to Chicago--perhaps in 1975 when they taped an episode of Soundstage--or otherwise recognizing his surroundings.  

I felt he missed a perfect opportunity to do just that when, near the end of the main set, he rolled into "Grease"--a song he wrote for the movie, which was based on a stage musical written and first performed in Chicago, just a few miles from the UC--without saying, well, a word.

These are just small quibbles, but explain why this won't quite rank among the very best concerts I'll see, even just this year.

Nonetheless, I'm extremely happy that I went, and glad I had the opportunity to see an authentic facsimile of the Bee Gees.

Last year in Chicago and this year in Vegas, I had the opportunity to attend the Australian Bee Gees tribute show, but didn't. I'm sure I would have enjoyed myself, but it undoubtedly wouldn't have meant as much as the real thing. Or even 1/3 of the real thing, though to Barry's credit, he was the principal singer, songwriter and producer of the Bee Gees.

For though he has endured great "Tragedy"--which ended his show but preceded a video showing Robin and Maurice singing "Massachusetts"--Barry Gibb is justifiably proud of the great songs he and his brothers created.

While perhaps not as enduring in the public consciousness at it should be, the Bee Gees' oeuvre is one that clearly merits "Stayin' Alive."

And though devoid of any white suits, with Barry Gibb and a crack band at the United Center, Tuesday Night Fever sounded pretty "you should be dancing" sensational.

Here's a clip of "Nights on Broadway" from last night, uploaded to YouTube by pandaspu:

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