Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Merry Manilow: ‘A Very Barry Christmas’ Proves a Ho-Ho-Wholly Festive and Fun Affair — Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Barry Manilow 
A Very Barry Christmas 
Allstate Arena, Rosemont, IL
December 5, 2017

Other than perhaps the Beatles, I don’t think there is a musical artist I’ve been consciously aware of longer than Barry Manilow.

Several of his hit mid-'70s LPs were staples in our family record collection, and while I can’t say I've remained a big fan over the years, familiarity has blurred into grudging affinity.

With friends and family members who are comparatively hard-core Fanilows, I went along to a concert of his for the first time in 2008, and on Tuesday night found myself at Rosemont’s Allstate Arena for "A Very Barry Christmas."

And I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Clocking in at just under 90 minutes, with no opening  act, it was a well-paced blend of just enough Manilow classics—for me—mixed with holiday tunes, most having appeared on Barry's multiple Christmas collections.

Even in his multi-platinum heyday, Manilow was never the hippest pop star, but in having written relatively few of his numerous hits--not even "I Write the Songs"--he must be credited as a crafty interpreter of tunes that catch the public's fancy. (Or at least part of the public.)

I realize it's somewhat backhanded praise to say I enjoyed everything he played because there wasn't that much of it, but it's been 40 years—if ever—since I've heard Barry Manilow II, Tryin' to Get the Feelin', This One's For You and Even Now in full.

So while he may well have some nice album tracks that were never hits, he isn't an artist I need to hear dig deep into his catalog.

Just his greatest hits are fine, and probably not even all of them. (Ultimate Manilow makes for a good compilation, with more than I really need.)

And although over the past few decades, while I really haven't been paying attention, Barry's been recording collections of pop standards in a variety of veins—big bands, Sinatra, love songs, duets, highlights of the '50s, '60s, '70s & '80s—I was happy to have "a nice Jewish boy" complement his hit songs with Christmas tunes.

Though the seasonal selections included some of the obvious—"Jingle Bells," "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year," "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" and as part of a medley after the jolly man showed up on his sleigh, "White Christmas"—I more so enjoyed when Manilow, a 16-piece big band and three backing vocalists nicely ventured off the traditional Xmas path.

Best of these were Barry's takes on Joni Mitchell's "River" and Frank Sinatra's "Violets for Your Furs."

At 74, with a new set of hips, Manilow remains a first-class showman and his self-effacing, deadpan humor amiably offset any perceived hokeyness.

After opening the show with "It's A Miracle," the sequined singer cracked that he was the Jewish Santa Claus and repeatedly noted the dichotomy of material being played, which at one point went "from happiness to total misery" as he led into his "Even Now," a song anguishing over an absent friend or lost love.

Manilow officially came out as gay just this past April, but per Wikipedia has been in a relationship with the same man since 1978, to whom he's now married but long kept secret in part due to his large female fan base.

So as he—in fine voice, still able to powerfully emote when needed—clearly delighted the crowd with classic ballads such as "Somewhere in the Night," "Looks Like We Made It," "Weekend in New England," "I Made It Through the Rain," "Mandy" and abridged versions of "This One's For You" and "Could It Be Magic," I couldn't help but imagine an empowering new (public) forthrightness in his professions of love.

And, of course, only a Grinch couldn't love Manilow's buoyant takes on "Daybreak," "Can't Smile Without You" and "Copacabana (At the Copa)."

Also making for a nice moment was "I Am Your Child" from the singer's 1973 debut album being preceded by his thanking fans who donated used musical instruments to be given to schools that need them, as part of the Manilow Music Project.

Along with several Christmas trees and other holiday trappings, the constant waving of green glow sticks handed out to the crowd added to the festive evening.

With so many musicians onstage, and vast decorations, "A Very Barry Christmas" can't be an inexpensive production, and Manilow appears to be performing it for just one night in only New York, Los Angeles and, first, Chicago, a city for which he profusely expressed great fondness.

Especially as the Allstate Arena balcony was well undersold, this made me all the more appreciative of the excellent musicianship coming from all those onstage.

Songs such as "Weekend in New England" and the main set closing "I Write the Songs" were powerfully, even blissfully, enhanced as the orchestra swelled.

Manilow was graciously appreciative of those performing alongside him, whom I regretfully cannot name.

At the end, this included not only Santa and some helpers, but a children's choir who accompanied the star on "Because It's Christmas (For All the Children)" before a brief reprise of "It's a Miracle" sent us off into the chilly night.

Scrooge that I may be, I have to admit it was a Barry good show, indeed.

As best as I could jot it down, this was the Barry Manilow setlist for "A Very Barry Christmas" at Allstate Arena, near Chicago:

1. It's a Miracle
2. Christmas Is Just Around the Corner
3. Daybreak
4. Somewhere in the Night
5. This One's For You (partial)
6. Can't Smile Without You
7. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
8. Even Now
9. River (Joni Mitchell song)
10. Jingle Bells
11. Violets for Your Furs (Frank Sinatra song)
12. Looks Like We Made It
13. I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm
14. I Am Your Child
15. Weekend in New England
16. Let's Hang On! (Four Seasons song)
17. It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year
18. Santa Claus is Coming to Town
19. I Made It Through the Rain
20. Mandy (with part of Could It Be Magic)
21. I Write the Songs
22. Copacabana (At the Copa)
23. Deck the Halls / Jingle Bell Rock / Feliz Navidad / White Christmas
24. Because It's Christmas (For All the Children)
25. It's a Miracle (Reprise)


Unknown said...

Sort of nice review. But thinking you don't really "get" Barry Manilow. The deep cuts are very worth it. He is an amazing arranger and his album 2AM Paradise Cafe is amazing...maybe you should take some time and check that out. ;)

Unknown said...

Sort of nice review. But thinking you don't really "get" Barry Manilow. The deep cuts are very worth it. He is an amazing arranger and his album 2AM Paradise Cafe is amazing...maybe you should take some time and check that out. ;)