Barry Gibb performing the second night of his U.S. Mythology Tour at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, P.A. on May 19, 2014
PHILADELPHIA, P.A. – On the stage of the Wells Fargo Center, a giant clock illuminated on an LED screen counts down the seconds to Barry Gibb’s rebirth in the United States.
Sure, it’s not the first night of the tour (Boston was treated to this four days prior). But the last time Gibb treated the U.S. to a second night of anything that could be called a tour was in 1998.
Sixteen years go by, and here we are in Philadelphia.
Before the clock can even finish, Gibb has grabbed an aqua blue guitar and is strumming the monster of a song that is “Jive Talkin’”.
His playing builds quietly, at first barely audible in the arena where the crowd hasn’t stopped screaming since he walked on stage. Finally he sings those simple, yet unforgettable words.
It’s just your Jive Talkin’
Tellin’ me lies
It’s about now when it all sinks in. Barry Gibb, the real Barry Gibb, the one who first changed the music world with his songwriting and then turned it upside down with his falsetto, is back on stage.
And he’s not only on stage, but letting out the kind of falsetto note that sends a chill and makes hair stand on end.
How can it even be possible? On paper, it sounds absurd. Barry Gibb takes a 16 year break from touring and comes back at age 67 sounding like his 1970s self.
Sure, that’ll work.
But somehow for Gibb, it does.
He barely takes a breath before launching into “You Should Be Dancing”, and a few songs later, “Stayin’ Alive”. Standing there in a plain blue shirt that matches his guitar, a fan blows back the singer’s famous mane of hair, although it’s now a shade of silver. His eyes sparkle and he smiles wide while delivering some of the most legendary lines of disco ever written.
Well, you can tell by the way I use my walk,
I’m a woman’s man: no time to talk
By now, the whole arena is on their feet. For many in the audience, tonight is the first time they’ve ever been able to sing alongside their music idol.
And it shows; when there’s finally a pause between songs, a standing ovation turns into a minute.
Then almost three. Gibb shakes his head with a look of sheer amazement, realizing what a couple decades of pent-up excitement can do to a crowd.
For more than two hours, he kept their attention with a bouquet of songs from every era of his celebrated career: dance hits, love ballads, classical pop, ’70s rock, and even the more atmospheric blend of pop and rock the Bee Gees conquered in the 1980s and ’90s.
The solo Gibb brother paid homage to his missing brothers not just by recounting a fond memory or two, but by bringing them into the show.
Maurice arrived via his daughter Samantha, who was invited to sing two songs while the elder Gibb watched with a glow of pride. And Barry’s son Stephen, a guitarist with a voice the polar opposite of his pop’s, performed a song penned by Maurice.
Robin entered on the big screen; his glowing visage appeared while his unforgettable performance of “I Started a Joke” left the crowd in shambles.
Even Barry wasn’t sure how to handle singing this one – he missed the cue for the song’s first line – the words his late brother had covered for all those years.
Carrying on as a solo artist after being part of a trio for decades not only carries an emotional toll, but a vocal one as well. Instead of sharing the burden of vocal duties with two others, he’s now left singing the same length concert largely by himself.
And that’s what makes what happened in Philadelphia so hard to believe.
On “How Deep Is Your Love”, his breathy, breezy notes melted the room. On “Nights on Broadway”, he brought back the falsetto in a way that truly defied time. On “Guilty”, he sounded truly fixated by the lyrics he penned for Barbara Streisand while singing them alongside the extremely talented Beth Coen.
If there’s such a thing as a time warp, this must be what it feels like.
After Gibb left the stage for the final time, a quiet hum came over the crowd as the lights went dark before a vintage music video featuring the three brothers played like a movie on the screen.
If the venue decided to keep the event going and pop in a Bee Gees DVD, this dedicated crowd would have probably grabbed some popcorn and gathered ’round the big screen.
“I want to thank everyone here who came from very far away tonight,” Gibb had said toward the close. “I don’t think I’ll ever understand it.”
Perhaps his fans can’t quite understand it either.