"I can only hope these songs are ruined in karaoke bars for years to come," Barry Manilow joked of songs he played for an adoring, near-capacity crowd Thursday at Staples Center. That's a given -- as is the magnitude of Manilow's legacy, which he showed off during a dynamic, 90-minute set.
This is a performer, after all, who in the last two years has put out an album each of other artists' hits from the '50, '60s and '70s, including a handful of his own on the latter set. And who, after lying low for much of the '90s, recently got his "Music and Passion" revue at the Las Vegas Hilton extended until 2009. Manilow seemed a bit in awe of his good fortune, as he beamed during Bruce Johnston's genuinely affecting "I Write the Songs."
It was one of several moving moments during a performance that had the intimacy of a cabaret show, thanks to his frequent, funny asides. There was schmaltz too, but Manilow displayed enough heart and humor to avoid becoming a caricature.
From the moment the singer kicked things off with "It's a Miracle," the crowd went wild, waving glow sticks and singing along. (Several fans complained that they couldn't hear properly from two sections of seats located behind the PA speakers, and on Friday representatives for Staples and concert promoter Live Nation said they were working together to address those fans' concerns.)
Performing with a small orchestra and four backup singers, Manilow threw himself into bold versions of his early material, from a torchy, string-laden "The Old Songs," to "Ready to Take a Chance Again," during which he danced with a fan onstage. His backup singers sock-hopped during a goofy but kinetic version of "Bandstand Boogie," which included a shout-out to Dick Clark, who was in the audience.
Despite the requisite jokes about his age, Manilow looked like Peter Pan as he sat atop his piano during "Can't Smile Without You." Manilow was joined by smooth-jazz saxophonist Dave Koz during a tender, jazzy version of "My Funny Valentine."
After a hasty version of "Copacabana (At the Copa)," Manilow returned to the stage with the promise he'd never retire and closed with "Forever and a Day." Amid all the glitz and gags, he looked like he was still having the time of his life.