Sunday, June 7, 2015

Manilow says farewell to CLT with hit-filled Vegas-style show

Barry Manilow hasn't made a habit of playing Charlotte. Fans have been treated to his show only once or twice a decade, so it's no wonder they turned out in droves for his "One Last Time!" tour Saturday at Time Warner Cable Arena.
Barry Manilow performs on stage during the One Last Time Tour at United Center on February 14, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images)

Smooth jazz saxophonist Dave Koz, who is celebrating the 25th anniversary of his solo career, opened the show with a half hour set that included an instrumental rendition of "Let It Go" from "Frozen" prompted by his nieces and a medley of hits he grew up with.

He talked up Manilow who took the stage half an hour later (it was probably the most punctual show I've ever been to) in a brocade red pleated jacket and black shirt and slacks. Although he was thin, admitting he lost weight on the road while tightening his belt at one point, he didn't appear to be pushing 72. His birthday is June 17. He was agile, hopping on his piano during the medley and running through light choreography with his backup singers.

Backed by a band that was a mini orchestra that included flute, a busy percussionist, and three animated backup singers whose youth and enthusiasm for the material elevated the action on stage, Manilow kicked his set off with the road anthem "It's a Miracle" followed by"Could it Be Magic." The rapt crowd joined in for "Can't Smile Without You" and waved the glow sticks they'd been handed upon entry during "Jump Shout Boogie."

My first memory of Manilow is the 1978 HBO concert special at the Greek Theatre, which aired in 1979. The memory is fuzzy. I was three and remember later specials from Stevie Nicks and Olivia Newton-John better, but Manilow was a star. If you were born around the same time as I was you might not realize how big a star he was and still is. The arena wasn't packed, but thousands of glow sticks swayed to "Looks Like We Made It" and each song save a couple ballads had many on their feet, singing along and dancing.

My friend and I pondered why could we hear Manilow so well when he was holding his microphone at chest to stomach level? Could he be lip syncing? He held the mic that way even when addressing the crowd between songs, so it didn't seem like it. A text to my husband - a live sound engineer - confirmed that it could just be the type of microphone used or the amount of compression on his vocals.

Manilow dueted posthumously, Natalie Cole-style with Judy Garland and showed a clip from his appearance singing "Mandy" on "Midnight Special" in 1975 before picking up the smash hit on piano. That led to the obligatory supersized medley that included 13 songs including "Bandstand Boogie," "New York City Rhythm," "Read 'Em and Weep." "Daybreak" and "I Write the Songs" (which oddly enough he didn't write) found Manilow backed by a local choir.  

He didn't tease folks with an encore, instead stepping off stage for a moment then announcing he'd forgot one before launching into "Copacabana" (of course). Some who'd sprinted for their cars when he stepped off stage were seen running back to their seats as the song started. 

Not only was Manilow punctual, his crowd was probably the politest I've ever encountered at a concert. The kind crowd seemed to understand the concept of shared joy and experience that takes place at a concert. I saw no beer slinging, although it was served, or seat-related beefs. Maybe the attitude is reflective of the music. Given his age and the rarity of his Carolinas performance, this is one farewell tour that means it, but Manilow left the crowd pleased he'd visited "One Last Time!"