Barry Manilow has been around for so long that one can forget just what an incredible force he once was in pop music. On Thursday, the 69-year-old vocalist-pianist reminded folks at the HP Pavilion in San Jose.
"I was the Justin Bieber of the '70s," Manilow proclaimed to the roughly 8,000 fans in attendance. "Really, I was. Ask your mother."
No need to ask mom. Manilow provided all the evidence necessary during this evening, which was packed full of fan favorites from his heyday in the '70s.
"I bet you are going to know every single song we do tonight," Manilow said early on.
Well, maybe not every single one, but darn near close.
Manilow ignored his latest release, 2011's bizarre concept record "15 Minutes," as well as most of his lesser-known material during the concert. The show lasted just over 80 minutes, yet it's hard to imagine that many attendees walked away complaining about the songs that weren't played.
It was a very Vegas evening, quite similar to the production performed during the singer's two-year residency (2010-2011) at the Paris Hotel in that Sin City. Yes, contrary to what you've heard, not everything that happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. That's a good thing, at least in the case of Manilow, since this revue translates quite well to the arena.
He took the stage just after 8 p.m. sporting a fuchsia-colored suit coat, the kind that only Manilow and a few other performers could get away with. He immediately led his top-notch band through a medley of two of his best up-tempo offerings, "It's a Miracle" (from 1974's "Barry Manilow II") and "Could It Be Magic" (from 1973's "Barry Manilow"). He then slowed things down with another medley, of "Somewhere in the Night" (from 1978's "Even Now") and "Looks Like We Made It" (from 1976's "This One's for You"). He followed with a seasonal offering, "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," which let's just say differed greatly from the version that Bruce Springsteen sang recently at the Oracle Arena in Oakland.
The concert was light on special effects, but strong on personality. Manilow is a natural born storyteller, which is probably one of the reasons why he's also such a capable songwriter, and the tales told in San Jose were often quite charming. He delivered a bizarre mix of bravado and self-effacing humor — with the latter working best for him. Indeed, the finest joke of the night came at his own expense, after the album cover from "Even Now" was flashed on the overhead screen. He looked at the picture, which shows his face and a distant New York skyline, and exclaimed, "God, my nose looks like one of the buildings!"
His voice was a bit weaker and more hoarse then I remembered from my last Manilow concert, which occurred a few years back, yet it hardly put a damper on the evening. This night was about hearing all those old favorite songs -- like "Mandy," "Can't Smile Without You" and "Copacabana (At the Copa)" -- and Manilow hardly disappointed in that regard. Even after all these decades in the business, the singer still seems to give his all when he delivers the hits.
"I swear I never get tired of singing these songs," he said. "They bring back such great memories for me.
"They must do that for you as well."
Judging from the reaction from the crowd in San Jose, the answer seems to be yes.
Follow Jim Harrington at http://twitter.com/jimthecritic, www.facebook.com/jim.bayareanews and http://blogs.mercurynews.com/aei/category/concerts.