At 67 years old and with more than a few "procedures" under his eyebrows, Barry Manilow now looks like someone wearing a Barry Manilow mask. But rest assured, despite the rubbery visage, he still unloads the same unabashed cheese that's made him one of pop's guiltiest pleasures.
Of course, if you were one of the 8,941 Fanilows at the St. Pete Times Forum on Friday, guilt and cheese had nothing to do with it. They ate up Barry's gaudy gorgonzola with gusto. Never mind that Barry's nasally croon often dropped out of songs (an opening Could It Be Magic was all but lost) and was greatly overwhelmed by the bombastic Charlotte Symphony Orchestra of Punta Gorda sprawled behind him.
Nevermind that the show clocked in at little more than an hour, which is acceptable for his best-selling Vegas gig (gotta get 'em back at the slots, don't you know) but is totally lame for a major arena.
Nevermind that Barry often paced the stage in an awkward, Tin Man manner, warbling such discofied clunkers as Who's Been Sleeping in My Bed and Daybreak and busting out dance moves that haven't been attempted since Deney Terrio cashed a paycheck. Or that his stage banter had all the spontaneity of an insurance seminar: "Leave your troubles outside and come with me. I'm going to make you feel good."
The crowd was patiently attentive during the groany spots (Bandstand Boogie — wow, that's ripe), but came alive on the few occasions when Manilow felt inspired. The night's best one-two punch was, admittedly, pretty darn satisfying, if way too brief.
For all its feel-good smarm, Can't Smile Without You made for a tremendous sing-along, and I'll fully admit that I was belting it out and waving my arms around as if I were screaming for a life preserver.
Even better was the next one, Weekend in New England, one of the great, gooey ballads of all time. In fact, it's the very reason such all-world icons as Sinatra and Dylan openly admired the heart-sleeved specialist. The crescendo is so moving, so incredibly goose-bumpy, it gets me every time.
A minor buzzkill? Right in the middle of the spare, bittersweet Weekend in New England, fans started hollering lustily for their man so Manilow stopped, mugging as best he could with that immovable face, and hammed: "I still got it!" Sigh.
Neil Diamond, Tom Jones, even Wayne Newton: After years of being considered uncool, those classic smirkers eventually garnered late-career hip points. But Manilow has no interest in trendy, no thirst for reinvention.
Instead, he was more than happy giving his well-worn hits overblown, unnuanced arrangements: Mandy, I Write the Songs, Copacabana (At the Copa).
Well, at least I think he was happy. With that face, who can tell?
Sean Daly can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life column runs every Sunday in Floridian.