[Babs singin’ about Brooklyn in Philadelphia. An acceptable video from Barclays is not available at this time, so just deal with it.]
I wish I could say that seeing Barbra Streisand on her “Back to Brooklyn” tour at Barclays Center with my mom was not my idea, but that’d be rewriting history. My mom’s been a fan her entire life and saw Babs on tour in 1994, so when it was announced that she would trot her formidable stuff into the brand new Barclays Center arena just a few blocks from my apartment, I shot a quick email to my mom to see if she'd be interested. I’ve never been particularly secretive about my love for Barbra, but I don’t think I’d have found my way to the concert unless my mom’s interest was high. Turns out, it was very, very high.
The Saturday night concert, a love letter to the Brooklyn that a young Barbra Streisand grew up in, was billed as a homecoming. To me, it felt more like a nostalgia trip. After all, Barbra left the borough to pursue her dreams and probably hasn’t been back since, though she hears Williamsburg is very chic. When cheering for a picture of the street signs at the corner of Newkirk and Nostrand Avenues erupted amongst the crowd, many of whom I imagine are former Brooklyn residents, I felt as though I had stepped in a time machine. The only other photo projection that elicited an equal response was one of Barbra and Judy Garland. Thus I established that Barbra’s core audience (gay men and older Jews) were in full force and ready to take a trip down memory lane with her.
Adoration is not a strong enough word for the kind of love that rang down from the rafters during Saturday’s show. As Babs made her way through the lengthy introductions she prepared for each song (she REALLY likes to set up a song), she was constantly interrupted by cheers of “I love you!” and “You’re fabulous!” and “I love your hair!” (She has a guy in LA who does her hair, by the way. No more information was given.) She never seemed flustered, and came off as warm and appreciative. We were told that this is only the 84th concert she’s given since 1963. This is likely to be her last tour, the last chance to take the whole shebang on the road and revel in her massively successful career.
But none of the warmth or adoration would mean anything without her voice, that singular voice that so many have said is “like buttah" (“Organic, sweet buttah!” Barbra insisted). So how does Barbra sound at 70? Not bad. Not bad at all. Sure, her chest voice isn’t quite what it used to be, she’s got a bit of a growl going on, and her phrasing suffers from reduced-breath support, but even a somewhat vocally-reduced Barbra is still impressive. On Saturday night, she really excelled on numbers that sat comfortably in her head voice and allowed her to emote. She was absolutely stunning on a tribute to her late friend, Marvin Hamlisch. Sitting in a chair at the front of the stage, she was visibly moved during a medley of “The Way We Were” and “Through the Eyes of Love”. Her performance of “People” was everything I hoped it would be. And a rendition of “Make Our Garden Grow” featuring the Brooklyn Youth Chorus gave me chills.
Other moments were less convincing. A solo version of her duet, “No More Tears (Enough is Enough)” with the late Donna Summer, was a silly throwaway, and a medley of tunes from Gyspy was the best evidence I’ve seen that we should all be thankful that a movie version starring Barbra as Rose has yet to materialize. I also could have done with less of the side acts. She left the stage for several extended periods of time, presumably to rest a bit, while young, Italian tenors Il Volo and smooth jazz trumpeter Chris Botti took turns playing short sets. At one point she called her son, Jason Gould, on stage. It was cute to watch Barbra enjoy Gould’s performance, of which she and I have very different opinions.
At one point during the show, Barbra remembered a 1967 concert in Central Park at which she forgot her lyrics. This moment of imperfection imbued her with such stagefright that she didn’t return to the concert stage for almost 30 years. So it’s appropriate that she would sing “Being Good Isn’t Good Enough”. The song opens her new album, which is a collection of outtakes spanning her entire career. Although her voice now suffers from a bit of age and wear, there’s still no one like her. And she is plenty good enough.