Judging by the large turnout and the snarled traffic at the Anaheim Arena Saturday, the brand-new venue is poised to become an important stop for touring acts. Barry Manilow contributed to the unveiling with a pleasing performance that overshadowed any of the venue’s shortcomings.
The Manilow performance inaugurated the Disney-owned venue, which will also be home to the Mighty Ducks hockey team. With its glass-enclosed private suites (called “condos” by the singer) and brass and marble decor, the arena is aesthetically pleasing. But a discernible slap echo and narrow parking aisles are among its flaws. (The show was delayed 40 minutes to give those caught in the traffic backup or parking lot maze to get into the venue.)
Manilow was in top form throughout. The artist does not have a new album out, but is hyping a greatest-hits package and a boxed set (Arista). Drawing from the more familiar, the almost two-hour show featured every one of the singer’s chart toppers. The one exception was “If Tomorrow Never Comes,” a stirring tune written by Garth Brooks and impressively delivered by Manilow.
A Manilow show is typically filled with plenty of kibitzing and schmaltzy love songs. The weekend gig was no different, but Manilow seemed particularly on target. The usually static, behind-the-piano presentation gave way to stage roaming and lively banter with the audience. What could have been a sedate trip down memory lane was actually a vibrant, well-planned presentation, with an occasional wow or two.
Like the venue, Manilow had his down side as well. A version of “Copacabana” (which may have been better served as part of a medley than this lengthy yawner) was done at warp speed, presumably because a club remix of the tune is popular in England.
A duet with backup singer Debra Byrd also fell short. Byrd, who sounds like a classically trained Aretha Franklin, gave her histrionic take on the Dionne Warwick signature nugget, “I Know I’ll Never Love This Way Again.” The tune stalled due to the songstress’ vocal stylings and when her lengthy vamp out almost turned into a significant portion of the show.
Manilow, though, deftly pushed all of the crowd’s buttons, leaving few dry eyes or seats in the house. A showstopping “Even Now” and the show closer “I Write the Songs,” featuring a huge choir on the high harmonies, were among the set highpoints.