Sunday, April 27, 2008

Vegas meets Chaifetz as Manilow plays first concert at new venue

By Kevin C. Johnson


No amount of chilly, wind-swept rain could put a damper on Barry Manilow’s Las Vegas-like concert Friday night at the new Chaifetz Arena at St. Louis University, the first concert to take place at the facility.

The venue officially opened April 11 with the Harlem Globetrotters.

After a barrage of techno beats and flashy light, the stage opened up and split in half, revealing a back-lit Manilow. He strode out between the stage’s two halves, all feathery hair and sequins for opening song "It’s a Miracle."

"You’ve come to the right place, because I’m here to warm you up," the crooner told the large crowd, just before mispronouncing the name Chaifetz (probably an allowable offense).

Manilow would later name-check other area venues he has played including the Muny, Fox Theatre, and the amphitheater now known as Verizon Wireless.

During the 90-minute show, Manilow served up equal doses of prefabricated cheese and corn to his hungry fans. They had no problem lapping up his nostalgia-stuffed offerings.

A medley with "Daybreak," "Somewhere in the Night," and "This One’s for You" helped get the crowd primed for his memory lane stroll that included a few low-key production frills, tons of color, and its fair share of emotion.

For "Ready to Take a Chance Again," Manilow stepped onto a small lift that carried him to the floor, where he swooped up a female fan to serenade.

"That was just foreplay. This is the main course," he said as he launched into "Weekend in New England," which featured Manilow seated at a piano that rose several feet into the air.
"Bandstand Boogie" was a ‘50s sock hop, full of garb from that era.

The tone shifted dramatically for "Looks Like We Made It," "I Am Your Child," and "I Made It Through the Rain," a song he paused so he could tell a sweet story about his grandfather.

That trio of tunes left some fans teary-eyed. But the mood was lifted again with the yellow smiley-faced "Can’t Smile Without You" and later "New York City Rhythm" and "Could It Be Magic."

He acknowledged career-restarting CDs such as "The Greatest Songs From the Sixties" and "The Greatest Songs of the ‘70s." In a nice visual bit, his performance of "Mandy" was interspersed with ‘70s footage of his performing the same song (you could also say the vintage footage supported the rumor that Manilow suffers from plastic surgery overload).

"I Write the Songs" and "Copacabana (at the Copa)" fittingly wrapped up the cozy evening.
Smooth jazz artist Brian Culbertson opened the concert, technically making him the first artist to play the arena. The keyboardist/trombonist was funkier than what he’s known for, and for good reason. His "Bringing Back the Funk" CD will be released Tuesday.

As a concert venue, Chaifetz Arena completely works. It feels fresh and clean, and its 10,000 capacity is not too big or too small. If there are any complaints, it’s that the floor seating is too cramped, with limited walkway.