With Michael Lington
American Airlines Center, Dallas
Thursday, February 18, 2016
Despite health issues, generational shifts in taste, and the unavoidable passage of time, Barry Manilow is still bringing the goods. The pop legend rolled into the American Airlines Center Thursday night, just less than a week removed from a hospitalization that threatened to postpone his remaining tour dates. As this has been billed the “One Last Time!” tour — a slogan that graced the numerous shirts, jackets and posters available at the merch stand — for the 72-year-old, it would have been a shame for folks in this area to have missed out on one last potential time to see Manilow in all his glory.
Throughout the course of the 75-minute show, the 18,000 or so otherwise cautious retirees hooted, hollered and danced in the aisles with reckless abandon. At other times, they FaceTimed or tried to shoot video through crookedly held iPhones. Manilow’s camp even thought it wise to distribute glowsticks to the crowd, a gesture that proved fortuitous when held aloft during high points of the show, but silly and out of place when much of the audience chose to randomly shake or haphazardly wave them around for the duration of the set.
Regardless, Manilow knows his audience, and he laid the schmaltz on thick as he regaled them with humorous descriptions of his Brooklyn youth (“Can you imagine me in a gang?” he chirped when describing the various future options his poorly rated high school offered), passionate pleas for support of his Manilow Music Foundation and numerous declarations of love for the city of Dallas. Though he likely greets each stop of the tour with a similarly phrased civic ode, it was a riot to see Manilow continually go out of his way to praise Dallas without actually saying anything about our city to specifically set it apart from the others. No matter: Hardly a soul left his or her seat.
And it was with good reason that most folks stayed put because Manilow treated the crowd to quite the faithful rendering of all of his best known tunes. “Somewhere in the Night,” “Looks Like We Made It” and “Even Now” brought the crowd to its feet with raucous cheers and sing-along abandon. Manilow bounced in unison with his three background singers, ducked and jabbed like an aging prizefighter to urge on his six-piece backing band, which was sequestered stage left behind heavy sheets of plexiglass, and occasionally softened the mood by seating himself behind a grand piano for the more reflective numbers.
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The stage briefly darkened to end the main set with a vintage television clip of Clive Davis waxing poetically on the genius of the young, up-and-coming Manilow. As the video segued into a performance of the then chart-topping “Mandy,” the screens went dark and lo and behold appeared Manilow and Co. to finish the song with effervescent aplomb. The band launched into a medley of a dozen or so songs that covered the breadth of his storied back catalog. It was a torrent of musicianship and a musical whirlwind that really seemed to take a lot out of the frontman as he bowed and thanked the crowd with a shortness of breath and a fatigued manner that had been absent up until that point.
It was a moment that really could have ended the show, but of course we hadn’t yet heard “Copacabana.” The iconic Grammy-winning track made for a brief encore that served as the evening’s crescendo. From there it was a brief reprise into the set’s opening number, “It’s a Miracle,” and then Manilow was triumphantly climbing the stage’s back steps, cheerily grinning and waving goodnight to the crowd before exiting behind the curtains, having conquered another city, in this case perhaps for the final time.
Of course, it may be a bit early to take Manilow’s farewell declarations to heart. Despite his nagging ailments, mounting frustrations with the touring industry, and the creeping of the body’s clock, it’s hard to keep a legend down. Manilow knows he can still bring it, therefore it’s a good bet that just maybe we haven’t seen the last of him yet.