This was a great evening for me and 15, 000 others at the Hollywood Bowl. Barry Gibb, the last of the Bee Gees was performing and the concert was a tribute to his brother and to the whole family. The night was just perfect, the sky was clear, it had been a warm day, the opening act was really quite good and everyone was primed for something special. That is exactly what we got.
Opening the show with two number one hits that started the disco era, “Jive Talkin” and “You Should be Dancing”, he had everyone on their feet before they knew it and the rest was easy. All he needed to do was move from one song to another, and the audience was with him. In the two and a half hours that the show ran, there were only a couple of songs from the catalogue that might have been unfamiliar to a casual fan, but I knew them and so did everyone around me. The rest of the program was packed with hits from the sixties, the seventies and the eighties and, if you lived anywhere else than America, you would recognize a couple of hits from the nineties as well. The evening was fan friendly and familiar and extensive.
Barry’s voice was in wonderful form, and yes he can still reach those high register falsetto notes that were his trademark starting in the mid-seventies. I did not hear a sour note or a vocal crack . He sounded strong and in control, and probably is able to replicate the sound because he manages the vocal time on stage well. Obviously he is without his talented siblings who together provided the greatest harmonies of the rock era. Sometimes he would have to take the lead on a song that his late brother Robin was known for, but usually he was careful to stick to the arrangements that focused on his vocal contributions to the Bee Gees. He was backed up by a fantastic trio of singers who stepped in and provided those harmonies that the band was so well known for. While it could never be as sweet without Robin and Maurice there singing beside him, the back up vocalists managed to make amazing contributions of their own, evoking the sound of the band and allowing Barry to emphasize what he did best.
Two other singers made frequent contributions as well. Maurice’s daughter Samantha performed a couple of songs on her own and then traded vocals with her uncle on several other songs. She is very talented with a country inflected tone that made the songs she performed feel even more warm and inviting. My wife has had a thing for Barry Gibb for forty years or more, last night she fell in love with another of the Gibb family, Barry’s son Stephen. Stephen supports the tour as lead guitarist. His work with the instrument was fantastic but it was his stage persona and singing that made my wife and I fans. He has a gravelly voice suited for metal styles and his deep growling snap was an interesting contrast to his fathers smooth high pitched sound. He sang lead on two songs and took a Maurice penned song, “On Time” and turned it into a smoking hot rock song that shows that the Bee Gees were just as much a Rock act as a pop phenomena. I sure hope there is a live album or video of the concert to come because I want to play this version of the song on my stereo in the car, loud!
Well maybe everyone else at the concert had a great time, but we sat in a box with two fans who had a spectacular time. Coley and his Mother Amy, flew out from Alabama to be at this show. Coley just turned 18 and graduated from high school last week. His Mom told us that the Bee Gees have been his favorite band since he was five and his grandmother would play them on the stereo when she babysat. This was his graduation present from his parents and he almost lost it when the show started. He has been tracking the tour and collecting albums and this was his first time hearing Barry live. He seemed to be in heaven. Both Coley and his Mother were on their feet for the whole show. They knew every word to every song and sometimes quietly sang along, never interfering with the stage performance, but reflecting real appreciation as the show went on. They came in the day before the show and were flying home this morning. I’m not sure that Coley will need a plane to get back to Alabama.
Back up singer Beth Cohen was an amazing stand in for some of the women that have sung songs written by the Brothers Gibb. She and Barry did “Islands in the Stream” and she slung it out there as well as Dolly could have done. The two Streisand tunes were also solid and she did “A Woman in Love” pretty much on her own, and I don’t think anyone in the audience was disappointed that Barbara did not show up, because her vocal stand in was wonderful.
Robin made an appearance via recording when the set came to “I Started a Joke”. Video was used judiciously, and this was the one spot where a previous performance by one of the departed brothers was shown. It was incredibly stirring and a moment that drew an ovation from the audience that reflected both admiration for the song and singer but especially for the crisp vocal that makes this song so winsome. It was a touching moment that did not overdo the sentiment but seemed to strike the perfect chord for the moment.
When Barry cleared his throat, paused and then said “here we go” everyone knew that the disco highs were about to start. “Staying Alive” had actually been early in the set, but now we got “Nights on Broadway”, “More Than a Woman”, “Grease” and of course “Night Fever” all in a concentrated dose. It was musical manna from heaven and got all of the Bowl up on its collective feet to boogie away for the last section of the show. The audience was filled with older folks but they still looked like they had the Travolta moves down. Everyone was having the time of their lives and the band seemed to be into it as well. There were several guitarists as well as Barry and his son, there was a drummer who was exactly right and a percussionist who fit into the grooves in all the right places. Keyboards and synthesizers are a part of the music but you never got the feeling that sometimes accompanies other disco sounds, that the act is really a trick of a computerized beat and a synth lick doing all the work. This band was powerful and polished and I could not help thinking how proud the Father and Son must be of each other. It made the evening extra special, to see how well everyone was working together.
The encore consisted of the most heartfelt love song that I ever heard from the band. “Words” was done as a tribute to Barry’s wife of forty-four years, Linda. The audience sing along throws off the timing of Barry’s final chorus, but everyone knows that it is coming and he finds the spot where he left off and nails the climax of the song. I wanted to lean over and make out with my wife right there in front of 15,000 other people. The final song of the night was one of the three number one hits from the “Spirits Having Flown” album, the disco/rock melange “Tragedy’ which put a powerful cap on the evening and reminded us all that if Barry Gibb does not keep playing, that would be the real tragedy. He finished with the very hopeful words “We’ll see you all again soon”. Lets’ hope so.