Barbra Streisand’s “Barbra: The Music… the Mem’ries… the Magic!” At Barclay Center, August 13th, 2016, Reviewed
If God was to appear here and now, irrevocably, uncontested, it would lose all its power: the music, memories and magic of God remains in its elusive nature. The same was true of Barbra Streisand in those years between 1967 and 1994, when, after blanking on a lyric in Central Park, she stopped performing live entirely. Once she appeared live on stage, I saw her spectacular 34 song return at Madison Square Garden, September 28th, 2000, she lost some of her power as a deity, though none as a singer.
The greatest female singer of her generation, Barbra, all her abrasive loudmouth, opinionated Fanny Briceness, none of that mattered when she sang. Her mystery dissipated as her power remained. At Barclay Center on Saturday night, Barbra brought her nine date tour to ground zero, Brooklyn, and when she sang she was as magnificent as you knew she would be, and when she spoke, she wasn’t. Rampant egotism may well come with the territory, but it needs to be tempered with a meaning greater than itself. In her two hour plus, two set, Barbra returned to her often told story about the cocksure, certain and scrappy girl from Brooklyn who listened to her muse and only her muse, and won it all. But what does it mean for you and me?
In 2012, Barbra performed at the same venue her “Back To Brooklyn” set, a good one overwhelmed by her chattiness, a sort of derailing of momentum to stuff us through a binder. On Saturday, she spoke too much as well, though working on her autobiography, it had a conceptual closed circuitedness (during the first set) that coalesced into a road not taken series of deep album tracks from her first ten albums. In 2012, I claimed she can’t make a bad song great, but she made indifferent songs great this time round. Right past the daring introduction of the evening with her second biggest song “The Way We Were”, she performed “Everything” and “Being At War With Each” -the former from A Star Is Born -but not the one you love, the latter a song even the composer Carole King would admit was a little on the whatever side. The second set was an extended advertisement for her soon to drop album Encore, featuring performances of Broadway songs with movie stars. Both Patrick Wilson and Jamie Foxx showed up to share a song from the album. It is a testament to Barbra that musically, song for song, it didn’t much matter what the songs were. Though it helped that Barbra is in discussions with Stephen Sondheim to bring his “Gypsy” to the screen and we got a healthy dollop of great songs by the greatest living composer. From “Being Alive” and a sublime “Children Will Listen” in the first set to “Rosey’s Turn” and “Losing My Mind” during the second set. Best of all “Losing You” from “Passion” -a musical I consider first tier Sondheim and ripe for a revival.
Barbra isn’t just like buttah, she is something other: her deeply felt singing digs inside you, it makes her words more than her worlds, when she sings she hands over a bit of her soul, the timbre is so naked and tender, like a confused, diffused expression of the nature of life. Not just the nature of love, but a searching for something bigger than music, bigger than herself but a reaching between one and many for the essence of being. It really is a form of magic, the art of transmogrification. Barbra is like Fosca in “Passion” when she sings, it is an obsessive perfectness, it is everything at once. Backed by a ten piece orchestra whom Barbra accurately claimed sounded much larger, she finds herself in her songs and frees us to join her. Not just “People”, but her three song disco medley, her through the roof “Who Can I Turn To (When Nobody Needs Me)” along to a video of the gone but never forgotten Anthony Newley, that, I can’t even really, just definably the soul of us, what we are.
Still, the damn speechifying, the bland out witless putdowns of Donald Trump -he may well be an asshole but please, a little intelligence if you want to convince folks , the rah rahing for the lowest common denominator Hillary Clinton, the global warming warning stuff (does Babs think we need that? Really? Why?). The global warning was followed by the bewildering decision to sing “Pure Imagination”. The whole thing is, Global Warming ISN’T pure imagination. I quite enjoyed Barbra discussing her album covers, or her explaining her work with the great William Wyler, less so her improvisations with the audience or her constant preening wink winking with the audience. Much better than 2012, but even so. There must be another way to hear this incredible performer. The feminist icon -while true, is best left for others to acclaim.
But who can you turn to, when there is nobody left who can do this? Barbra is 74 years of age, I hope and pray she has the chance to film “Gypsy”. I can’t wait for the biography, my hopes for the follow up to the meh Partners are limited, and if she was performing the same set today I’d go again. Because, even with the mystery gone, she is still godlike, isn’t she?