Friday, October 19, 2012

~Catching up with Barbra in Brooklyn ~

Everything as if we never said goodbye”, sings Barbra during her opening number from the musical, “Sunset Boulevard”. As for me, I’m glad and grateful that she has not said goodbye to performing after all these years. Otherwise I would have never had the chance to be here, with tears in my eyes, watching her down from the very steep section 225 at the Barclays Centre.

This newly inaugurated  entertainment facility in Brooklyn can accommodate up to 19,000 people (96% packed house for Barbra’s concert tonight). The experience is rather like seeing Barbra perform in the valley from a mountaintop. And I paid nearly $200 for this seat. Rumor has it that the seats closer to the stage can cost up to $5000 each. With my $200, I would have been in the third row right in front of the stage if this were a Katy Perry concert. But then again, I would never be at Katy Perry’s concert unless I got drugged and dragged there.

At 70, Barbra is still one of those few artists whose star power and artistry never seem to wane but continue to inspire generations. The first time I heard Barbra’s music was on a compilation MP3 disk when I was about 17 (which by the way is not very long ago). I was quickly captivated by a voice so powerful yet delicate and her singing style quite unlike anybody’s. I have been spellbound ever since. In my country, we have very limited access to international imports and goods, music being one of them. I could bear with the scarcity of Coca-Cola but I needed more Barbra. Of course there were always plenty of pirated CDs by Madonna or Michael Jackson but unfortunately not artist like Barbra. Later when I started travelling abroad, I began collecting her CDs, biographies, TV specials, movies and concert DVDs and even her recent coffee table book, “My Passion for Design”. In my library now, there is a little Barbra shrine where I keep all her collectables. 

It is disappointing to see no mention of Barbra on the digital board or even her poster hung at the venue. Talking about poster, I’m slightly mad that she is reusing her photos from her 2006 concert tour. Could this be her, the Jewish Barbra, idea to cut the cost and not hang big posters and banners at the venue too? Quite possibly! While queuing to get in, I become increasingly fidgety. I begin to doubt whether my ticket is valid. I get too paranoid and stressed out at times like this. I bought the ticket online. In a worst scenario this ticket could be fake. After flying all the way from Asia and learning at the door that my ticket is nothing but fake would have sent me to my early grave. I bitterly wrestle with my negative thoughts until a lovely lady checks my ticket and kindly lets me in. I feel like a grinning refugee at the border who finally gets the approval stamp to cross over to the land of milk and honey.

In the lobby, they are selling merchandise and concert programs, a large glossy photo book. I would have bought it if it weren’t sold at a whopping $40 price. While I am quietly thinking to myself how ridiculously priced it is, a voice from the crowd tells me that all programs are sold out. They call that “The Streisand Effect”. She sells. (Later at the urinals, I befriended the guy next-door who bought the book and shamelessly browsed through the pages in the loo. Forgive me, Barbra!)

It is really illusory and dreamlike to be watching her move about, sip chicken soup (she claims that she was not feeling well earlier that day) or sing on stage. During the first few songs, I am so consumed by the excitement that at times, I forget to blink or even breathe. I wonder if she is feeling jittery as this is her first homecoming concert in over four decades but I certainly have butterflies in my stomach. Il Volo, the Italian operatic pop teenage trio, appear on stage to duet with her on “Smile”. “My tenors are getting younger and younger” Barbra jokes making a reference to Il Divo who accompanied her on her last tour. These boys, despite their tender ages, sing so beautifully. Their rousing version of “O Sole Mio” keeps the crowd entertained while Barbra takes a short break.

Barbra sings two fan favorites that she has never performed live before. I would have liked her to perform “Woman in Love” but I’m also pleased with “No More Tears (Enough is Enough), the disco duet she did with the late Donna Summer in the late 70’s. She sounds a bit hoarse during the high notes but how could I complain about such a tasty treat that was offered generously, considering this is the first time ever she performs it live.

Barbra then pays tribute to her long-time collaborator and friend, who just passed away a few months ago, Marvin Hamlisch, with his Oscar-winning movie song and her signature hit, “The Way We Were” and “Through The Eyes Of Love”. She looks visibly emotional but keeps it together and gives us a moment to remember. I look around and see people weeping. “Being Good Isn’t Good Enough” which can be heard on her latest album “Release Me” mirrors the kind of artist that Barbra is. Notorious for her perfectionist attitude, she breathes a whole new meaning to the song from the 1967 musical, “Hallelujah baby” which is about a young African-American woman’s struggle for equality and her rise to stardom. Barbra concludes her Set 1 of the show with a Broadway medley; “Rose’s Turn” and “Some People” (from Gypsy) and “Don’t Rain On My Parade” (from Funny Girl). The latter, needless to say, receives a well-deserved standing-o.

Jazz trumpeter Chris Botti accompanies Barbra on “Lost Inside Of You”, a sweeping ballad from the movie, “A Star Is Born”. Once again, a rare performance of the song and she manages to pull buckets full of tears from the audience. “Evergreen”, one of my all-time favorites, is done dutifully but without very much emotional impact, I must say. Maybe it’s me who came here with mountains of expectations. It leaves me wanting more.

The second set opens with “You’re The Top” in which her voice cracks a number of times but she manages masterfully till the end. Then comes a video clip made by her son, Jason Gould for her recent birthday, with him singing "Nature Boy" in the clip. It is such a lovely thing but a tad too long for the audience as it spans a full 4 plus minutes. But who would have thought Jason could sing so well? And most importantly, why hasn’t he done anything with that angelic voice? Now aged 45, Jason is releasing his debut album and will carry on the Streisand legacy. Proud Mama invites her only son to the stage and together they perform a touching rendition of “How Deep Is The Ocean”. 

I had my share, I drank my fill 
And even though I’m satisfied, 
I’m hungry still. 
To see what’s down another road beyond the hill 
And do it all again 
So here’s to life”

One of the finest moments arrives with “Here’s To Life”, a song from her “Love Is The Answer” album that fits her far better than that incredible Donna Karen suit she wore during her first set. Barbra once famously said that she is “an actress who sings”- this performance alone verifies how true that statement is. Her poignant delivery hits all the right spots for the audience that consists of folks near, around and from Barbra’s age bracket (I could easily be the youngest member in my section 225). Like “My Way” or “The Impossible Dream”, it is one of those songs that needs to be sung by a seasoned veteran like her.

A dramatic finale is anticipated of course and it finally happens with “Make Our Garden Grow”, one of those Broadway tunes she recorded for “Back to Broadway” album but did not make it to the album. (It is also the song that features her famous 19-second belted note. A video clip of her singing that note again and again till perfection in the recording studio can be found on Youtube.) “We are Mother Nature’s guardians, it’s our responsibility to keep her healthy for our children’s children’s children” Barbra shares her message of concern for our weary world with the audience. All her guest stars and The Brooklyn youth choir join her on stage for a stirring rendition of the song. A snippet version of “Somewhere” is also performed subsequently, although she warbles only the last two mammoth notes of the song, “Some” and “where”, it is more than enough to send shivers down my spine.

Folks are already leaving the venue with determination to hop on the train before anyone else when she returns to stage for encore. In fact she gives us two; an exquisitely sung Jazzy number, “Some Other Time” and politically-charged, “Happy Days Are Here Again”. The latter is sung, after preaching the crowd, humorously of course, who they should vote for in the upcoming election.

Barbra possesses a magical presence. Not to mention, that glorious voice. Her lush lower register, rich velvety tone and one of a kind vibrato that she built a career on are still very much present. Although her voice has become somewhat deeper with age and her upper range getting thin, she is still capable of hitting amazing high notes with accuracy and incredible control. Apart from sounding raspy during some high notes, her voice is astonishingly in top condition all throughout the show. The concert, from every move she makes, her dialogues, projection of images and clips to guest appearances and the orchestra, is tightly rehearsed and even the smallest flaws are not easy to spot. 

To be honest, this is the concert I never thought that I would be able to see. I had given up on that dream of seeing her perform live one day. Simply because a) Barbra seldom gives concerts (Believe it or not, this one I attended is her 82nd in her entire career!) b) she never performs in Asia where I live and c) she’s already 70 years old. Fate has smiled upon me that I am on vacation in the States in the same time she is touring (which may or (hopefully may not!) be her last tour).

Barbra, with her countless accomplishments as an entertainer, has already been regarded and celebrated in the way Pablo Picasso, Katherine Hepburn, Andy Warhol, Luciano Pavarotti and Frank Sinatra are and will be even more so in years to come. I am incredibly lucky to have seen Barbra Streisand perform live. This may just be a concert to some but for me is a lifetime memory to cherish and a piece of history that I was able to take part in or witness. And I, here with a huge grin on my face, can say that some dreams do come true.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Fab, fun, fantastic .. Thanks for sharing and keeping the legend alive for another generation.. She is an iconic singer and the best of the best...