Fans came from all over the world to the Seminole Hard Rock in Hollywood, Florida, to witness a historic event Tuesday night, as Barry Gibb – legendary singer and songwriter of the Bee Gees – took to the stage for a live concert. As noted in a pre-concert profile by SunSentinel.com, this was Barry’s first ever solo concert in the United States, a striking fact considering that in 2012 his performing career now stretches into its fifth decade. And with news of his brother Robin’s illness sending a sobering chill through Bee Gees nation, an occasion such as this was not to be missed by many of the band’s biggest fans.
It’s somewhat of a shock to realize that after all his decades of hitmaking, Barry Gibb is only 65 – a fit and vital 65 at that, allowing him to jump right into his brisk, 21-song set and not let up on the energy. Barry Gibb has aged well, and in case anyone was worried, so has that formidable voice, one of the most unique in pop music history.
After a bit of an adjustment through the balky first minutes of “Jive Talkin’”, (nervousness, perhaps?) Gibb’s trademark falsetto maintained its strength throughout the night, effortlessy bringing disco generation blockbusters “You Should Be Dancing”, “How Deep Is Your Love?”, and the medley of “Night Fever” and “More Than A Woman” to life.
(See “You Should Be Dancing”)
One of the more humorous moments of the evening was Gibb’s cover of the jazz standard “Fever”. Gibb did sweet justice to the storied song, and with his irreverent segue into and back out of “Night Fever”, he also slipped in a hilarious pun about the milestone moment of the band’s career, Saturday Night Fever. As he brought the song down to its quiet conclusion, he repeated the refrain over and over: “The fever happened long ago…the fever happened long ago.” (And they say Maurice got all the comedy genes…)
It wasn’t just the disco era that Barry paid heed to, though, as Barry fearlessly plumbed the voluminous Bee Gees catalogue for fan-favorite chestnuts like “New York Mining Disaster 1941”, the Odessa-classic “First Of May” (dedicated to his wife, Lynda), and the subtle weeper “With the Sun In My Eyes”, which literally did give a quietly emotional Barry an occasion to step back and dry his eyes.
There was even a super rarity performed for what may have been the first time ever, the 1967 Bee Gees 1st Album cut “Every Christian Lion Hearted Man Will Show You”. (Any Bee Gees trivia whizzes out there want to help substantiate this as fact?) Freed from its casting in circa ’67 amber, the baroque psychedelia of the song wafted to the farthest rafters of the Hard Rock arena, a novel introduction to the setlist that reminded the crowd that Barry’s contribution to pop history is not only deep but wide.
A performer whose showmanship has been honed since he was a mere teen heading Australia’s preeminent “boy band”, Gibb radiated confidence – and had a sincere appreciation for his audience written all over his gracious, smiling face. “Lonely Days”, “Spicks and Specks”, and even the doomily titled “End of the World” were all punctuated by smiles, laughter and recognition of the audience’s role in the performance.
(See “Spicks and Specks”)
Since their inception, the Bee Gees have always held up family as a core value, and despite the lack of Robin’s participation, there was still plenty of Gibb to go around in Hollywood last night. Son Stephen Gibb – a hard rocker with his electric guitar slung low, arms tatted down to his knuckles, and with a little growl added to his vocal textures – laid waste to “On Time”, a B-side rarity composed by his late uncle Maurice. In an evening formed around his father’s timeless soft rock and pop ballads, Stephen Gibb brought the “Hard Rock” of the venue’s name to life with edgy, blues-laced solos that bit down hard. The musical and visual contrasts between father and son were plain to see and hear, but all night long there were wonderful moments of shared love and appreciation – musically and emotionally – between the two.
And that wasn’t all: Maurice’s daughter, Samantha, floated from the wings to join her uncle on an airy version of the Gibb-composed standard “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart.” The classic love song was a huge hit for the Bee Gees, a sparkling recording for Al Green, and performed by just about every singer who ever wanted to revel in its perfectly pitched evocation of the urgent vulnerabilities of the human condition.
So how did she do? Despite what seemed to be a little nervousness as she began singing with her famous uncle, the duet was flawless, with Samantha shifting confidently and seamlessly through a chorus replete with both breathy falsetto and strong belting. (Wanna hear Samantha singing with her band the Cartel? Check out her official website.)
Barry’s band consisted of three guitarists, a bass player, two keyboard players, a drummer and a percussionist, with Barry often strumming his acoustic guitar. He also had three backup singers who deftly supplied a crucial approximation of the classic Bee Gees vocal magic. But when singer Beth Cohen emerged from the back of the stage to take the mic and the spotight, she proved she had plenty of talent on her own. Performing Gibb-composed and produced number one singles by Dolly Parton and Barbara Streisand, Cohen’s vocals on “Islands in the Stream” and “Guilty” provided all the expected melody and dynamics of those classics, while not mimicking the legendary singers. She was a perfect foil for Barry’s voice.
Here’s the track listing for the whole show:
1. Jive Talkin’
2. Lonely Days
3. You Should Be Dancing
4. First of May
5. To Love Somebody
6. End of the World
7. How Do You Mend A Broken Heart (with Samantha Gibb)
8. Fever/Stayin’ Alive/Fever
9. How Deep Is Your Love?
10. On Time (sung by Stephen Gibb)
11. New York Mining Disaster 1941
12. With the Sun In My Eyes
13. The Morning Of My Life
14. Spicks and Specks
15. Every Christian Lion Hearted Man Will Show You
16. Islands (with Beth Cohen)
17. Guilty (with Beth Cohen)
19. Night Fever/More Than A Woman
21. Stayin’ Alive
(See “Lonely Days”)
If there were any disappointments in the evening, they were few: The “Night Fever/More Than A Woman” medley was too short a showing for those two classic songs. While deep on the vintage material, save for the teary “Immortality” that closed the main set, the post-disco period of the Bee Gees was unexpectedly ignored. (“Immortality” was dedicated to brothers Andy, Maurice and Robin.)
And he didn’t do my two favorites, “Nights On Broadway” or “Wind of Change”; but for every song I may have missed out on hearing, I’d imagine the thousands of other attendees in the sold out crowd were likely missing their own favorites as well. With a catalogue as deep and varied as Barry Gibb’s, there is bound to be some angst about which songs to include and which to leave out, particularly when some song choices must be hard to make what with the lack of his brothers’ musical and harmonic participation.
In the end, though the 90 minute set seemed a bit short for his eager fans (totally excusable given his extended absence from the stage), it was hardly a perfunctory one. In the Sun Sentinel interview, Gibb was clear that this show was a one off, with no current plans to hit the road. The interview, however, alluded to the fact that if he felt good after this show, he might consider doing more.
Well, one thing is for sure: his audience sure felt good after the show. Having become a recent convert to Barry Gibb and the Bee Gee’s grand legacy of pop songwriting and performing, I sure felt like the money spent and distance traveled was more than worth it. The couple seated next to me, married for 35 years and whose romance blossomed during the Bee Gees unprecedented dominance of chart success in the late ’70s, sure did feel the same. And the mother/daughter combo from west Texas, who had flown all the way across the country to see Barry live, all agreed: Mr. Gibb, we think it’s time you hit the road with that family band of yours and share this amazing catalogue of music with live audiences around America, if not the world. See you on the road?
Top three photos: Twitter
Bottom Photo: Barry Gibb attends the 2011 Winterfest Boat Parade VIP Party at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Miami, Florida on December 9, 2011. Credit: Johnny Louis/WENN.com