|photo: Drew A. Kelley|
The average age of “Fanilows” in Inglewood actually skewed much older. No surprise there: Barry Manilow’s successful, nearly decade-long run on the Billboard pop singles chart began in 1974 (adult contemporary radio hits continued throughout the ‘80s).
Since then, he's put out more than a dozen concept albums that continue to resonate with longtime followers. During the 2000s, a “Greatest Songs” series of love songs and standards all went gold or platinum.
Last spring, Manilow released “This is My Town: Songs of New York,” a great musical love letter to his hometown of Brooklyn and surrounding areas. Manilow mixes impressive originals like “Coney Island” and “Lovin’ at Birdland” with covers made famous by The Crystals, Petula Clark, The Drifters, Billy Joel, Frank Sinatra, Jay-Z & Alicia Keys (!) and others.
On Friday, an electronica mashup of Underworld’s “Born Slippy” and past Manilow hits served as a festive introduction. Then the 95-minute show kicked off in standard fashion with the jubilant “Daybreak.”
Although the affable entertainer, now 74, stopped doing large scale tours in favor of sporadic live appearances, he said onstage that watching news channels like CNN “where everybody is so angry” all the time made him realize “people need uplifting music again. So I’m back reporting for duty.”
Supported by a large band that included horn and string players, plus three backing singers, Manilow was in fine vocal form throughout and managed to hit all the high notes (even if it meant a few pained expressions from old plastic surgeries).
He introduced the ballad “Somewhere in the Night,” by lamenting how music on the radio today often lacks melody. In a recent interview, Manilow admitted “Can’t Smile Without You” was one of his least favorites to do live, but seemed to have fun with it here.
Much of the arena was up and dancing for a vibrant “Bandstand Boogie” (the theme to Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand” TV show from 1977-87). The sleek title track from “This is My Town” and “On Broadway/New York City Rhythm” were standouts and the only newish songs played. The latter featured an anecdote about Times Square and whimsical rotating piano/keyboard turns by Manilow and his band.
Alone at the keyboard, Manilow did the quiet, emotionally resonant ballads “I Am Your Child” and “All The Time,” where he recalled early days making the NYC piano bar rounds and “feeling like a misfit.” Back at the black grand piano, the ultra-dramatic “Even Now” and its sustained vocal note whipped the crowd into a frenzy. A snappy “duet” with Judy Garland seen on the screens for “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart” (heard on 2014’s Grammy-nominated “My Dream Duets”) worked well.
What followed was the usual sturdy hit parade, including a romantic “Weekend in New England” (prompting loud female squeals), an upbeat take on The Four Seasons’ “Let’s Hang On” (where Manilow palled around with his singers) and “Somewhere Down the Road” (capped by a moving a capella bit).
Manilow introduced “Could it Be Magic” by explaining how it was inspired by Chopin and his thoughts on Donna Summer’s dance hit version. A segue into the disco arrangement was just alright.
Toward the set’s end, Manilow belted out his dramatic showstoppers “I Made it Through the Rain,” “Mandy” (with the now standard 1975 “Midnight Special” TV clip accompaniment) and “I Write the Songs” (driven by swelling orchestration and assistance from the Los Alamitos Show Choir) with ease. “Copacabana (At the Copa)” brought everyone to their feet again for the party time finale.
A version of my review originally appeared at ocregister.com