Review: Even now, Barry Manilow makes musical magic

Barry Manilow was great. He always is.

Friday night’s rare Bay Area concert at the HP Pavilion in San Jose (he was there in 1998 when it was the San Jose Arena)  found the superstar at his usual, show-bizzy best.

Decades after his breakout hit “Mandy,” Manilow is still singing the sappy ballads and simple Top 40 hits that simply haven’t worn over the years, particularly for the unapologetic diehard fans comprising the capacity crowd. (Note: Average concertgoer age looked about  the same as that of the last Rolling Stones tour.)

But this time around, Manilow’s got street cred. Critics finally have recognized his versatility (he’s written and sung big band, show tunes and jazz) as well as his razzle-dazzle showmanship and undeniable selling power.

These days, Manilow is back on top of the charts, with albums featuring covers of songs from the 1950s, ‘60s and, most recently, the ‘70s — meaning 1970s hits he didn’t originate.

But happily, he and his excellent orchestra and backup singers stuck mostly to his own 1970s chart-toppers and favorites Friday, opening with “It’s a Miracle”  (slightly endearingly, he hit a few bad notes at the outset)  and closing with “I Write the Songs”  and “Copacabana.”

 In between were the ballads — “Somewhere in the Night,” “This One’s for You,” “Ready to Take a Chance Again,” “Weekend in New England”  — of which he joked, “I so glad you still like these songs. I hope they’ll be ruined in karaoke bars for years to come. ”

In a bit of spontaneity, after fussing with a “droopy” microphone at the piano, he commented about other things being droopy; a bit later, his 1960s segment had another PG-13 moment, with him taking a hit from a cigarette and chatting hazily, but recovering with, “The only drug I take is Lipitor.”

High points included a tribute to his grandfather, who was responsible for his first recording, made in a coin-operated booth when Barry was a young child, and a kick-butt version of the classical-inspired “Could It Be Magic.”

But the show’s climax was video clip of him singing “Mandy” on TV’s “Midnight Special” in 1975 during which he rose from the floor at the piano, accompanying himself on the song.  The “then and now” sequence was an evocative testament to the power of the guy who’s still making the whole world sing.

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