Barbra Streisand, Rod Stewart

  • Barbra Streisand, 8/6/16 (Sat), Las Vegas, T-Mobile Arena
  • Rod Stewart, 8/7/16 (Sun), Las Vegas, Caesar’s Palace

Barbra was making the latest of her farewell concert tours, and I figured it was about time to see her. The hefty price tag was off-putting, especially since she’s far from her peak at age 74. But I still kick myself for missing my only chance to catch Frank Sinatra in his last tour of Japan (with Liza Minnelli and Sammy Davis Jr, no less) because I was too cheap to shell out ¥30,000. I’ve long decided: no more regrets. While I’m not a big Streisand fan – I only have one of her albums, a gift from a friend – she’s undeniably a star in her own universe with a strong catalog of hits. So I combined a business trip with a side visit to Las Vegas. 

Any doubts were blown away from the opening number (“The Way We Were”). While she isn’t the singer she used to be, she knows how to deliver a song to perfection. And maybe age has mellowed her since she wasn’t as self-consciously dramatic as in her recordings, a big improvement in many cases. I actually enjoyed the drippy “Evergreen” for the first time (“Love, soft as an easy chair” – uh-huh), and her superb rendition of “Papa, Can You Hear Me?” reduced the cringe factor significantly. Noting that she’s had #1 albums in each of the past six decades, she devoted the first half of the show to songs from each, and not necessarily the most popular or obvious choices. That didn’t always result in the best numbers – she had two clunkers in a row with a mediocre song from A Star Is Born and a dumb Carole King protest song (backed with various news clips of civil unrest) – but all were sung with utter conviction and were consistently entertaining. That said, while I guess she can’t avoid the hits, the belting numbers like “Stoney End” and “Enough Is Enough”, though fun for the nostalgia factor, are beyond her now and probably should be retired; the backup singers were doing most of the heavy lifting. The second act, less structured, had a better overall selection, such as a thrilling “Pure Imagination” (shame about the climate change video), a duet with a filmed Anthony Newley on “Who Can I Turn To?”, a supremely nuanced “People” (possibly the best live performance of the song from her I’ve ever heard), and an energetic if strained (not that I cared) “Don’t Rain On My Parade” that brought the crowd to its feet. The absolute highlight came unexpectedly at the very end of the show with a sublime and sultry “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was” from her new album, making me wish she had done more songs of this quality throughout.

She exudes confidence and is totally at ease on the stage. She has a terrific rapport with the audience, responding with aplomb to the numerous shout-outs. She recalled her accomplishments in a way that didn’t feel at all like bragging, itself quite an accomplishment. She gave the appearance of making it all up as she went along. Her banter ranged from the amusingly self-deprecating (telling how they removed the bump from her nose on an album cover, admitting the use of a teleprompter) to the depressingly political, including numerous plugs for Hillary Clinton, Trump insults (“He doesn’t have a mind” and such; she offered to refund the ticket for one Trump fan in the audience), an unwelcome climate change plea (the polar-bear-on-the-iceberg photo made an appearance), and a gay rights video for “Being Alive”, which made no sense at all. Her comments could be very funny, like her recollections of the Barry Gibb album (“I never did understand what the lyrics meant”) and the A Star Is Born album cover where she and Kris Kristofferson appear naked (“If you’re wondering what I was wearing during this shoot – it was musk”). She went nicely off script many times, such as coyly calling out someone texting in the audience (“I’m not interesting enough?”) and mentioning her previous Las Vegas gigs and her husband in the audience. She fluffed a few lines at times but simply laughed it off, saying “At least I’m not lip synching.” She could have been nicer to the excited audience member whose British pronunciation of Cher was apparently not to her liking, but overall she seemed to be relaxed and enjoying herself, which was infectious.

There was a baffling sequence with a mind reader in the second act that came out of nowhere and should have stayed there. (Barbra didn’t even use the time to exit for a costume change as I would have expected.) Also, she had hinted that there would be guest stars from her latest album, but no one showed. Actually, that’s not a complaint. She commanded the stage like a true diva and reigned supreme throughout in a show lasting over two-and-a-half hours. She made up for her occasional raspy sound and shorter breath with her sheer divine presence. That was enough for me. A great performance*.

I discovered that Rod Stewart was in town as well and figured I’d make it a 1970s revival trip. His voice has always been raspy, so that part was no surprise. Unlike Barbra, though, his singing voice is completely shot, even painful to hear at times. Age has definitely taken its toll, and he hasn’t come up with a style or interpretation to make up for it (though his Great American Songbook series might have been one way). What he does have in spades is charisma. He bounded out smiling impishly like a frat boy at a party and stayed like that the whole night, laughing a lot, playfully shaking his tuchus, running constantly around the stage, even kicking soccer balls out into the audience (reaching the balcony in several cases), not a bad showing for a 70-something oldster. He did exit for a few well-deserved breaks in between, leaving the stage to his numerous backup singers, but his energy level was remarkable. He featured all the big hits – “Tonight’s The Night”, “The First Cut Is The Deepest”, “Maggie Mae” – croaking them out so unashamedly that it was hard not to just go with the flow. “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?” was so tortured that it was touching, as if he were determined to proclaim his love no matter what. I assume that the songs I didn’t know were from his latest albums, but he had a good balance of the old and new. His banter was engaging, if not nearly as deep as Barbra. He talked like he was sharing stories with the blokes at the pub, His joking about the blazing Vegas weather, his advanced age, lip synching in Las Vegas (“It should be outlawed, I tell you”) and more. He recalls someone telling him early on that he would never make it in the business because of his nose – a bit of déjà vu from the night before. The show had huge video screens projecting not only Rod and the gang but also bright colorful imagery on various themes tailored to each song, and a release of hundreds of balloons at the end added to the merriment. No politics here, just good solid entertainment presented with flair. It was a quick 70 minutes or so, but I didn’t feel short changed at all. While I can’t say that I found anything new in the songs, I had a great time. A nostalgia trip that was well worth it.

*The internet offered a full set list from Barbra’s concert. I’ve added the source shows:

Act I

“The Way We Were” (The Way We Were)

“Everything”

“Being at War with Each Other”

“Everything Must Change”

“Woman in Love”

“Stoney End”

“No More Tears (Enough is Enough)”

“Evergreen”

“You Don’t Bring Me Flowers”

“Being Alive” (Company)

“Children Will Listen” (Into the Woods)

“Papa Can You Hear Me” (Yentl)

<Intermission>

<Magician Lior Suchard>

Act II

“Pure Imagination” (Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory)

“Who Can I Turn To” (duet with Anthony Newley) (Roar of the Greasepaint)

“Losing My Mind” (Follies)

“Isn’t This Better” (Funny Lady)

“How Lucky Can You Get” (Funny Lady)

“Don’t Rain on My Parade” (Funny Girl)

“People” (Funny Girl)

“Happy Days Are Here Again” (Chasing Rainbows)

Encore

“I Didn’t Know What Time It Was” (Too Many Girls)

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