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Monday, February 4, 2008

"Barry Manilow: Songs From The Seventies" DVD Review by porfle

With the image of a young mullet-headed Barry Manilow bopping around the stage in spangled bell-bottoms still lingering in my mind, I approached this 2-disc DVD set from Rhino, BARRY MANILOW: SONGS FROM THE SEVENTIES, with more than a little trepidation. But after watching it I realized that, regardless of all the nightmares I've had over the years, Barry isn't really out to get me. He just wants to entertain us.

Originally a PBS special, this concert was taped in September 2007 not far from where Barry grew up in Brooklyn. He tells the story of his "come-up" between songs: "One day I was bouncin' checks at the A & P, and the next day I was bouncin' up the music charts!" The venue is relatively small, and the intimacy level is increased by a runway that allows him to stroll through the audience while he sings.

Fittingly enough, Barry begins this set on a sentimental note with "Mandy", the first song of his that most of us ever heard on the radio. After singing the first verse by himself on the piano, the lights come up and he's joined by a small orchestra. "New York City Rhythm" comes next, and we're introduced to the rest of his band plus four backup singers. They're all really good and the song gives them a chance to heat things up a bit. After awhile, it hit me: "Hey! I'm not hating this!" In fact, with this band and Barry's voice--let's face it, he's a hell of a singer--I was actually starting to enjoy myself.

After making the young girls cry with "I Am Your Child", Barry does a brief medley of his hit commercial jingles--"Band Aids", "State Farm Insurance", "McDonald's" (that was him telling you that you deserved a break today), and "Vick's."

Crowd-pleasers like "Could It Be Magic?" and "Copacabana" follow, the latter sounding better than ever thanks to a cool unplugged arrangement. After the Frankie Valli hit "My Eyes Adored You" and "Looks Like We Made It", Barry gets the tears flowing again with an emotional "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother."

He sings a few lines from the dreaded "The Way We Were" and then cuts it short. Thanks, Barry! "It Never Rains In Southern California" sounds pretty good here, leading into a seven-song medley which includes "Can't Smile Without You" and other faves, winding up the set with his show-stopper, "I Write The Songs." As an epilogue, we get to hear him belt out "One Voice" all by his lonesome in an empty auditorium, no band, no audience.

I enjoyed the casual ambience here, with a wildly enthusiastic audience of true-believers that didn't have to be wowed or won over with a lot of Vegasy glitz. The setting looks good with its starfield background and warm colors. Barry's cosmetic surgery enhancements may take a bit of getting used to at first--geez, has it been that long?--but he's snappily-dressed in a regular suit. No spangles or bell-bottoms, and no mullet.

The second disc takes place in the same venue and offers about twenty minutes of extra songs, different versions of songs from the first disc, and a couple of screw-ups that occurred during taping. At one point during some between-song patter Barry realizes that, instead of a microphone, he's talking into his water bottle. A false start at the beginning of "The Way We Were" (curses! I guess he was determined to get that one in!) requires a start-over as Barry tells everyone: "Okay...pretend we're coming out of a pledge break or something like that." And if you liked the "bouncin' checks at the A & P" bit, you get to hear an alternate rendition here.

One of the highlights is a rousing version of "Who's Been Sleeping In My Bed?" which kicks off the disc. Later, Barry gathers his backup singers around the piano for "You've Got a Friend", managing to make it less nap-inducing than James Taylor's original snoozer. The last song is the fan-favorite "All The Time", which ends the set as Barry tells his audience: "See you in Vegas."

The picture is widescreen and the Dolby Digital stereo sounds great. Open up the keepcase and, after cringing at the really bad picture of Barry, you'll find both discs stacked on the right side for some reason. The animated menus look nice and are backed with the intro to that acoustic version of "Copacabana" that I liked from the concert.

Needless to say, you should skip this DVD if you just plain hate Barry Manilow. It's not going to win you over. Me, I was never a big fan, yet was surprised to find how much I enjoyed this performance. But if you love old Bar, and especially if you've ever actually cried during one of his songs, then BARRY MANILOW: SONGS OF THE SEVENTIES is an honest-to-goodness must-have.

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