Barry Gibb is Stayin' Alive: Concert Review
A touching look back at his remarkable career serves as a tribute to those Gibb brothers no longer with us.
"Stayin' Alive," the 1977 disco anthem, may be the Bee Gees' best-known song, but it also served as the stated purpose for Barry Gibb's solo tour, which wrapped its first American leg last night at the Hollywood Bowl.
Following the deaths of his brothers and bandmates, Maurice in 2003 from a heart attack, and Robin in 2012 from complications of cancer, Barry Gibb had kept a relatively low profile before emerging late last year with the Mythology Tour, his first solo trek.
Like Brian Wilson, the eldest Gibb brother is the surviving sibling of a pop institution. But whereas Wilson, who's been ravaged by various demons over the years and has to rely highly on his support singers and musicians, Gibb showed that he still has his talent fully intact. That was most evident midway through the set, when he delivered a jaw-dropping sparse reading of Bruce Springsteen's 1985 hit "I'm on Fire." Explaining that Springsteen, his "favorite artist," had recently paid tribute to the Bee Gees by performing "Stayin' Alive" at an Australian tour date, he was "returning the compliment." Sitting on a stool, with eyes closed tight, arms often open wide, he delivered a chill-inducing rendition -- closing with his trademark soprano wordless vocalization -- that sounded just as hip as something on the latest album by the War on Drugs.
And of course, Gibb, now 67, spent ample time digging into the Bee Gees' disco-era hits. The set opened with "Jive Talkin'," but didn't truly get moving until two songs in, when Gibb pulled out "You Should Be Dancing," a percolating disco gem that got the crowd moving, just as the title implored.
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For many rock fans who grew up in the '70s, the Bee Gees were often considered public enemy number one, as our favorite radio stations and peers told us "disco sucked." The trio's misstep in the 1978 film flop Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Band didn't help. Of course, with time and distance and rock acts such as the Rolling Stones, KISS and Blondie releasing disco-fied hits, most of those same rock fans realized they were dead wrong, especially in the case of the Bee Gees, who had an impressive run of hits pre-disco, and whose entire catalog ranks up with the best in pop music history.
Backed by an eight-piece band and three backup singers, Gibb touched upon different phases of the band's vast history, with nods to his late brothers and still-living collaborators. Dressed all in black, with his famed mane now thinning and gray, Gibb performed much of the show armed with a blue acoustic guitar. He dipped into the band's classic catalog, performing a slowed down version of "To Love Somebody," pausing for dramatic effect before delivering the song's final line.
Early in the set, he paid tribute to his younger brother Andy, who died in 1988 at age 30 of a heart condition, likely brought on by substance abuse. Noting that "Andy wanted to be a Bee Gee, but he was too young," Gibb performed the ballad "Our Love (Don't Throw It Away)" in his honor as images of the younger Gibb appeared on video screens.
Maurice was remembered with the presence of his daughter, Sammy, who joined her uncle for the first time of the night on a duet on "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?," and returned several other times in the set.
Robin was brought back via video on "I Started a Joke," a song that Barry began singing before Robin took the lead in a duet from the great beyond that worked surprisingly well with accompaniment from the live band.
The family affair also included Barry's eldest son Stephen, one of three guitarists, who stepped up to sing the Maurice Gibb-penned bluesy rocker "On Time," effectively giving his father a breather from the spotlight. He also sang a gritty verse in "I Gotta Get a Message to You," Robin's song about a death row inmates final hours before execution.
Yet mixed in with all the melancholy, there was humor. When Gibb performed "Spirits (Having Flown)," a backdrop of clouds appeared on the video screen, which Gibb faced with out-stretched arms to take flight. Soon after, a jet with the song's title appeared on the video screen, flying amongst the clouds. Later in the set, as a photo of him alongside Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon dressed as the Bee Gees, from his recent Saturday Night Live cameo, appeared on the screen, Gibb noted, "If you're going to have a guy on either side of you, you can't do much better, unless it's my brothers," before dedicating "Nights on Broadway" to Timberlake.
Aside from unearthing such early hits as "New York Mining Disaster 1941" (the first time the band was heard on American radio, Gibb noted) and "Spicks and Specks" (the first time the group was heard on "any radio"), late in the set, Gibb turned the spotlight on his songs that became hits for other artists. He brought up backup singer Beth Cohen to duet with him on the Dolly Parton-Kenny Rogers hit "Islands in the Stream" and his Barbra Streisand collaboration "Guilty," before Cohen took a solo turn on "Woman in Love."
A triple shot of disco heaven followed with "Nights on Broadway," with Gibb once again hitting those incredible high notes, followed by a mash-up of "Night Fever/"More Than a Woman," with the Bowl's disco-ball spinning for full effect. Then, he once again turned to one of his songs made famous by another artist, "Grease," a song that proved his late '70s chart dominance.
In a final tribute to his brothers, accompanied by photos on the screen, Gibb recounted memories of each of his siblings, before launching into "Immortality," the Bees Gees' collaboration with Celine Dion.
Closing with "Tragedy," Gibb reminded us that yes, it's a shame that his brothers are no longer with us, but proved his solo show is the next best thing and shouldn't be missed by any true fan of popular music. Gibb hinted he may return with additional dates later this summer. Catch him while you can.
You Should Be Dancin'
Our Love (Don't Throw It Away)
To Love Somebody
How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?
How Deep Is Your Love?
I've Gotta Get a Message to You
Morning of My Life
New York Mining Disaster 1941
Run to Me
I'm on Fire (Bruce Springsteen cover)
Spirits (Having Flown)
You Win Again
With the Sun in My Eyes
I Started a Joke
Spicks and Specks
Islands in the Stream
Woman in Love
Nights on Broadway
Night Fever/More Than a Woman