Love him or hate him, one has to admit that Barry Manilow is a natural-born showman. He's had nearly his whole life to hone his skill as a performer, and on this, his farewell concert tour — billed as the "One Last Time Tour" — he's winding up his extended career with a splash. [Text by Gabe, photos by Tracy.]
As a singer-songwriter with a hell of an ear for a melodic hook who got his start as a commercial jingle writer, Manilow has been a Top 40 mainstay since the mid-'70s and has retained one of the most loyal and passionate fan bases of any genre.
For his local stop, Manilow attracted a pretty respectable-sized crowd at the massive Amalie Arena in downtown Tampa on Thursday night. As I was handed a glowstick upon entering the venue by a peppy, enthusiastic (and elderly) attendant, I knew this would be not be your typical concert headlined by a 72-year-old.
A brief opening set by smooth jazz saxophonist Dave Koz went over well, especially on the strength of a '70s soul medley that ended his warm-up. The middle-aged crowd bopped and grooved along to snippets of covers by Kool & the Gang, Stevie Wonder and Earth, Wind & Fire.
A short while later, as a frantic EDM remix of Manilow's 1978 disco smash "Copacabana" blared from speakers, the ornate red velvet curtains that had enshrouded the large stage started to part. A colossal collection of musicians, string section and backup singers waited as the man of the hour emerged from a large staircase at the rear of the stage.
Clad in distinguished black tails, the slender singer made his way to the front of the stage and started belting out one of his many hits, "It's A Miracle."
Greeted with a standing ovation from the near sell-out crowd and with plenty of screams and whistles from his most loyal, Barry beamed and seemed to soak up the adulation with genuine glee. "Tampa! We're back!" he exclaimed and was rewarded with another roar of approval.
Urging the crowd to stand up and sing-along to "Can't Smile Without You," the glowsticks that were distributed before the show permeated the dark arena in an awesome aura of lime green as thousands waved in unison to the tune.
Pacing around the stage for most of the evening, Manilow took his place at a baby grand piano to deliver a heartfelt version of another of his many hit ballads, "Could It Be Magic." After lingering briefly at the keys, he rose again rose and made his way to the front of the stage. This time, he pointed out a female fan in the front row and asked her to dance with him. A brief exchange of words revealed the woman had traveled from Maryland to see the show and to come from the cold weather to have Barry "warm her up." The cheeky comment drew plenty of cheers from the female Manilow lovers in attendance.
Some sax accompaniment came from opener Koz for the semi-autobiographical "Brooklyn Blues" before Manilow spoke of his admirable Manilow Music Project, which encourages local residents from each city he performs in to donate unwanted musical instruments for use in school music and arts programs hard hit by cutbacks in recent years. In exchange, Manilow provides free concert tickets for those generous enough to partake in his visionary project.
A duet with long deceased performer Judy Garland courtesy of archival footage on a video screen was Manilow's plug for his newly released Grammy-nominated album My Dream Duets. "Tony Bennett's gonna win...he win's everything!" Manilow kidded, referencing his competition in his nominated category.
As a way to cram in as many of his mountain of hits into one concert as possible, Manilow kicked off an impressive mega-medley that touched on upwards of a dozen songs (I lost count along the way while furiously scribbling notes). Stretching into his string of '80s-era hits, it was amazing to hear bits of so many of his successes presented in one continuous flow. The medley-ending "I Write the Songs" benefited greatly by the rich vocal accompaniment of a fully-robed, locally-sourced gospel choir.
Encoring with a proper version of "Copacabana," it was impossible to find anyone in the place seated. As trippy, psychedelic images swirled on video screens behind him, Manilow and his three backup singers traded dance steps and created a fun, lighthearted ending to an enjoyable night.
A reprise of the show opening "It's A Miracle" rang out as endless ribbons of colorful streamers rained downward from the roof above. It made for a glitzy, showbiz ending to, not only an evening of non-stop hit songs, but quite possibly the last show locals will see from Barry Manilow on a local concert stage.
In retrospect and in looking back at his long career and his piles of gold and platinum records, it's safe to say, Mr. Manilow, that it looks like you made it.
It's a Miracle
Somewhere in the Night
Can't Smile Without You
Looks Like We Made It
Could It Be Magic
I Am Your Child
Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart (duet with Judy Garland video)
Weekend in New England
I Made It Through the Rain
The Old Songs
New York City Rhythm
Some Kind of Friend
Read 'em and Weep
Somewhere Down the Road
This One's for You
Tryin' to Get the Feeling Again
Ready to Take a Chance Again
I Write the Songs
It's a Miracle (reprise)