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Streisand Tour Ends: Can Anyone Follow This Act? : Pop music review: The seven-city event was a finely orchestrated triumph of vision and box-office success.

July 26, 1994|ROBERT HILBURN | TIMES POP MUSIC CRITIC

ANAHEIM — Now that Barbra Streisand has ended her celebrated seven-city tour with a warm, relaxed performance on Sunday at the Pond of Anaheim, are there lessons to be learned for the pop music world?

You bet--though most concert executives may focus on the wrong ones.

The danger is that promoters will be dazzled by the box-office grosses for the 26 shows--a staggering $65 million to $70 million. That means they may spend all their time trying to figure out who else can command close to her top price of $350 (excepting the Las Vegas shows).

The multimillion-dollar question this morning: What price Michael Jackson?

Even better: What price Michael Jackson . . . with an opening act of Lisa Marie Presley, who wants a singing career?

It will be fascinating to see what prices will be attached to what stars in coming years, but the real lesson of the Streisand tour is the show itself.

More than a triumph of finances, these Streisand shows--which she says represented her last-ever tour--were a triumph of vision.

Pop executives should make sure their mainstream acts--from Whitney Houston to Mariah Carey--make a tape of Streisand's two-hour HBO TV special (airing Aug. 21) and study it daily.

One reason there is so little acclaim for mainstream figures in the modern pop era is that few of their songs offer the character or revelation of the best rock, country or soul songs.

That's why shows by such artists as Houston and Carey seem like random, arbitrary exercises. Instead of giving the songs added weight by putting them into some sort of intelligent context, the only thinking behind the selection and order of material revolves around issues of pacing and promotion.

The formula is painfully simple: You put a slow song here, a fast one there; a song to plug the new album here, an old favorite there. And, you save your biggest hit until the end. It's what everybody does, so it must work, right?

On this tour, Streisand--who now plans to return to filmmaking--challenged that game plan. Ignoring such Top 10 hits as "Stoney End" and "No More Tears," she picked songs that meant something to her, and she arranged them in revealing thematic sequences.

"I don't know why I'm frightened" were the first words she sang in the show, and that song--"As If We Never Said Goodbye"--immediately personalized the evening, because stage fright was a major reason Streisand hadn't toured in two decades.

"I'm Still Here," a witty expression of self-affirmation with special lyrics to reflect on Streisand's career and image, reinforced the idea that this was a show about Streisand, not just a concert by her.

Similarly, songs about relationships were woven into a sequence that took you from the sexual awakening of "He Touched Me" through the heartbreak of "The Man That Got Away" to the eventual optimism of "On a Clear Day (You Can See Forever)." While the songs are of uneven quality, they blend together to make a convincing whole. Other songs were also linked meaningfully.

On Sunday, Streisand--who earlier in the tour stuck close to the show's script--seemed especially comfortable in the spotlight. As a bonus, she invited the fans to stick around for an extra half hour while she taped some additional numbers for the TV special.

Through it all, she was freewheeling and relaxed, frequently throwing in ad-libs and kidding with the crowd. As fans shouted song requests at one point, she smiled and said something that other mainstream pop stars ought to put on their walls: "I have this planned, you know."

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