Barry Manilow spends most of time immersed in Las Vegas glitz these days, and doesn't have many visible body parts left that don't look like they've nipped and/or tucked. But Manilow has never seemed more genuine than at the Warner Theatre on Wednesday.
Manilow led his orchestra through a 90-minute set of obscure album tracks and massive radio smashes, and discussed his oldest and newest songs. Everything worked fabulously.
Before getting everybody crying with "I Am Your Child," a ballad which originally appeared on Manilow's little-listened-to first album in 1971, he told of growing up in Brooklyn and having his grandfather take him to Times Square every weekend to work on his music. Manilow played a crackly recording of him as a four-year-old singing Nat King Cole's "Nature Boy," and said Grandpa paid a quarter to have it made, then sat behind an electric keyboard and joined his young self live.
Diehard members of Manilow's fan base, dubbed the Fanilows, let themselves be heard in what was an intimate space for a guy who filled arenas for the last several decades. During a theater-wide singalong of "Can't Smile Without You," a woman old enough to remember that tune's first run on pop radio back in 1978 ran to the front of the stage waving a "Pick Me!" sign. Manilow wasn't conducting any sort of contest at the time, but rewarded her nonetheless by handing her his microphone and letting her take a few bars worth of lead vocals. Another supporter of similar vintage and devotion in the first row wildly waved a placard saying "I've waited 35 years for this!" until Manilow acknowledged her.
Manilow introduced "Bring On Tomorrow," a tear-jerker from "15 Minutes," his latest release and first collection of original material in a decade. Manilow then reprised 1974's "Mandy," his first hit single and a song whose chorus and bridge remain as deviously catchy as any of the commercial soundtracks the former jingle writer ever concocted.
Manilow has just become the primary pitch man for atrial fibrillation awareness, and told the audience that while in Washington he'll lobby on Capitol Hill to drum up interest in the ailment, which causes an irregular heartbeat. Before coveriung the Bee Gees' "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?" Manilow talked about being chronically afflicted by the sickness, but issued himself a clean bill of health: "Don't worry about me," he said. "I still look good and I'm horny!" The Fanilows near the stage acted as if their tickers skipped a beat as he said that, but no need to worry about them, either. Blame it on Manilow, not AFib.