Barry Gibb, The Mythology Tour: Live At The United Center, Chicago, Tuesday May 27, 2014…
Morbidity and pure joyous pop! You could sense it in the air at Chicago’s United Center. Barry Gibb, touring the world solo for the first time in his career after the death of his brothers Maurice and Robin (not to mention Andy… which he did!), proved that, just like the Beatles, the Bee Gees have staying power. That power will never be the power of one. Able to draw from a vast repertoire of Bee Gees songs, Gibb grew steadily more ‘emotional’ as the night grew longer and I eventually began to think of Rivaldo diving for penalties on the soccer field.
He looked sad. He looked tired. He looked old. He cried a lot. And, in between Jive Talkin’ and the absolutely awesomely brilliant final encore Words, he performed 27 other well-crafted songs. All easy to remember if you’re old enough. The fact that only just two minutes under two hours went by is genuine testament to the fact that the Gibb brothers really were masters of the two-and-a-half minute tune. Beyond the relentless flow of tears, the only moments which never rang true were when Barry’s oldest son, Stephen, joined dad on guitar, showed off his generic tats and delivered a poor rendering of On Time.
Still owning a fine, warm voice, Gibb made Bruce Springsteen’s I’m on Fire his own. Gibb’s sweet intro, the corny but eternally beautiful I Started a Joke had me eating out of his hand until it slipped into video as Barry peeled off and let his late brother Robin finish the song via a video clip on the giant screen, which was weird.
I actually enjoyed his female back-up singers better than I ever did Barry’s brothers. Indeed, I should add that I never really liked the Bee Gees very much as an act so much as I truly loved a lot of their songs. I always found their high harmonies just a little too syrupy and slick. With the new backups, Beth Cohen and Morris’ daughter Sammi Gibb, making him work harder for the highs and lows than Morris and Robin ever did, there was craft like never before on display, and the intimate, deep R&B styling of How Can You Mend A Broken Heart owed far more to the arrangement skills of a certain cover by Al Green and his producer Willie Mitchell than anything the brothers ever attempted.
Barry’s lovely tresses may be gray now, but he’s done what only the Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney have done, outlasted the capricious finger of fashion. Teen pop idols in the late sixties, the Bee Gees faded in the era of what is now labeled classic rock before their renaissance as superstars during the disco era when they sold 220 million copies of their Saturday Night Fever soundtrack album in 1977.
Now, 37 years later, in a world ruled by hip-hop and the revival of a kind of slickly produced anodyne pop music we haven’t seen since the early 60s, the Bee Gees earliest pop hits, even the early Australian singles that never made it to England are huge retro hits on Spotify. Biggest of all is the massive retro revival of their Bee Gees 1st album from 1967 and the current downloading of millions of their double album Odessa, which was a critical failure when it was released in 1969.
I had gone to the show expecting to see a room full of nostalgia-addled Boomers, but at least half the crowd filling the United Center for three nights, which is normally the home of the NBA’s Chicago Bulls and often acoustically-challenged when it puts on musical events, were teens and young adults.
Despite his shows happening in a sports stadium, Barry Gibb is clearly a perfectionist. The acoustics were very, very good. As so much of the show is based upon mass crowd participation during songs like To Love Somebody, Gibb really does have to be at the top of his game throughout. One can’t help but realize just how savvy the man is when he takes his rest before returning to the final line of the song to finish it after it is ‘stolen’ from him by his almost hysterical adoring army of fans. Even the little sob sessions for Morris, Robin and Andy are grist to the mill, allowing him to rest his voice.
“It’s only words,” he sang, wiping tears from a fan’s face before leaving the stage for good. “And words are all I have to steal your heart away.”