Wednesday, August 07, 2019

The Way She Was: Barbra Streisand Sings Superbly, Kibbitzes Warmly, Welcomes Ariana and Trashes Trump -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Barbra Streisand
United Center, Chicago
August 6, 2019

In terms of pure vocal quality, is Barbra Streisand the greatest singer I’ve ever heard live?

I don’t know, especially as at her concert Tuesday night at Chicago’s United Center—the first time I’ve ever seen “Babs”—her famed voice seemed a tad huskier than it likely was years ago.

And I’ve been fortunate to have seen not only hundreds of rock ‘n roll luminaries, but most of the top Broadway vocalists of recent decades, numerous top-flight opera singers and star crooners like Tony Bennett, Neil Diamond and Barry Manilow. Though late in her life, I’m glad I saw Aretha Franklin a few years ago, and just last month caught Diana Ross for the first time. Among many others, I was also truly wowed by Adele.

So who knows? But that at age 77, Streisand still begs the above question, means that she was pretty damn impressive on my initial foray.

Though her whole performance was enjoyable, and she always sounded terrific, the truly “OMG!” vocal moments were somewhat sporadic.

But when they came—on “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” “The Way We Were,” “Send in the Clowns,” “People,” “My Man” and in other spots—they were really, truly special.

So while it may strike some as surprising that I would see Barbra Streisand—especially now, for the first time—it really shouldn’t.

I love the art of live performance, relish seeing gifted, noteworthy artists across many genres and am now happy to catch almost anyone I haven’t (or may one day wish I had).

Though there are still some genres I don’t much embrace—modern country (particularly by men), boy bands, hip hop—I have seen pretty much every style represented on theatrical stages, so I tend not to be too parochial (within time, budgetary and other logical limits). 

While it’s been 5-1/2 decades since Streisand was an actual Broadway star—in Funny Girl—we both clearly share a love of show tunes, Stephen Sondheim, Burt Bacharach and finely-wrought standards.

Not to mention a disdain for the current occupant of the White House.

Coming after a tragic weekend of massacres in El Paso and Dayton, Streisand strongly advocated for gun control laws and, yes, engaged in some Trump-bashing.

Clearly not the entire crowd—close to full at the UC, but with some noticeable gaps—concurred with her sentiments, but Babs got plentiful applause when she knocked the president, particularly in reprising “Send in the Clowns” with lyrics mocking the orange one.

Perhaps it's because I agree with her, but I don’t mind artists making political statements, and it’s not like Streisand has ever been coy about her liberal leanings. So anyone who was offended by her remarks pretty assuredly had paid their money knowing where Babs stood.

But lest anyone think this was a political rally, it wasn't.

A sizable band (though not quite an orchestra) preceded Streisand’s entrance with an overture—which the singer revealed was composed for her 1967 concert in Central Park—and Barbra, adorned in black dress by Chicago fashion designer Azeeza, took the stage singing “As If We Never Said Goodbye,” from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard musical.

She altered the song’s lyrics to slip in Chicago references: deep-dish pizza, Lake Shore Drive, Rush Street, though notably to me, not Barack Obama (whose name wasn’t dropped all night).

Later she would speak of early performances in the city, at Mister Kelly’s nightclub (where she initially played on June 11, 1963 at the age of 20).

Streisand nicely culled songs from throughout her long, esteemed and diverse career and occasionally showed age-old photos or video clips—most overtly from her role in the 1976 version of A Star is Born with Kris Kristofferson, who had joined her onstage at the huge recent London gig in Hyde Park—but Babs’ charming repartee kept things from feeling overly soaked in nostalgia.

After "Evergreen," the love theme from that film, midway through her first set Streisand performed a medley—I would’ve preferred full versions—of some pop hits, including “Guilty” and “A Woman in Love,” both written for her by Barry Gibb.

Then came the evening’s social media buzzworthy moment as on “No More Tears (Enough is Enough),” a duet Streisand did with Donna Summer in 1979, current pop sensation Ariana Grande appeared to handle the Summer parts. (Grande was in town headlining Lollapalooza over the weekend.)

I appreciate that Grande has a great voice and believe she’s handled tragedy—including deadly terrorism at her Manchester, UK concert and the death of ex-boyfriend Mac Miller—with graceful aplomb. I wouldn’t call myself a huge fan of her music—the livestream of her Lollapalooza set literally put me to sleep—but it was fun to see the intersection of gifted songstresses.

Sans Ariana, “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” from Funny Girl delectably closed out the first set.

After intermission, wearing an off-white dress by Donna Karan, Barbra delivered a fantastic rendition
of "The Way We Were," perhaps quite slyly leading into the more socially commentative portion of the evening.

Rodgers & Hammerstein's "You've Got to Be Taught" coupled well with Sondheim's "Children Will Listen" as songs that speak shrewdly to how kids glean proclivities for both love and hate from  adults.

Then came "Send in the Clowns," first as Sondheim beautifully wrote it for A Little Night Music, then with Trump parodying lyrics such as:

He says he’s rich / Maybe he’s poor / ‘Til he reveals his returns / Who can be sure / Who is this clown? 

Obviously, Streisand is a veteran star who's worth a fortune, so it's not like she's exactly risking much by stating her contempt for Trump. Still, I applaud her for standing by her beliefs and even telling some hecklers to "Shut up."

Yet while I loathe the president, the hate he spews and the tenor he's set for the country--not that racism, bigotry and murderous lunatics didn't exist before--I actually liked it more when Barbra's attacks were artfully implied, rather than direct.

"Walls" from her 2018 album clearly denounced racial divides while being a nice song, while beautiful deliveries of "People," "Sing," (from Sesame Street), "Happy Days are Here Again" and "What The World Needs Now Is Love" strongly championed tolerance, togetherness, love, hope, etc. even in the face of treacherous times.

From the looks of it, Streisand made a last-second choice--via a brief pow-wow with her musical director, who's name I didn't catch and can't find--to end the show with “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?”

Honestly, it's a question I can't answer, but I imagine I'll keep appreciating the arts and hope to attend many more shows by great performers. (Hopefully again in the company of my good pal Paolo, who joined me for this one but will soon be sojourning for awhile.)

I don't know if I'll ever see Barbra Streisand in concert again--I wouldn't mind, but even this "tour"  had only 3 shows, and while seemingly healthy and well, she is 77--but I'm genuinely glad I did.

It wasn't quite my favorite concert, and maybe not even Babs at her best, but it clearly bespoke why she has been such a revered and legendary star for so long.

And that voice, oh that voice, at least in spurts, buttah.   

1 comment:

Hemingway1955 said...

No Clown, Babs has Evergreen Parade.