By Chris M. Junior
In a way, it was strange and sad to see Barry Gibb on a stage without his late brothers Robin and Maurice positioned to his right — the classic frontline Bee Gees formation, pretty much from their mid-late 1970s dominance into the early 2000s.
Then again, it was comforting and uplifting to see Barry, standing center stage (Robin’s old spot) and accompanied by other family members, singing not only a wide variety of Bee Gees material but also some of the hits he had a hand in writing for other artists.
Barry’s first-ever U.S. solo trek, dubbed Mythology: The Tour, rolled into Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center on May 19. Tunes, not tales, dominated the show, and when he did offer between-song banter, it usually was brief and a bit bland (intro statements included “OK, here’s one,” “This is one of my favorite songs” and “Here’s one for Robin”).
Chalk up the lulls and the anecdotal awkwardness to Barry getting used to the secondary aspects of the solo-frontman thing. He was comfortable and confident otherwise, whether standing or seated on a stool, whether playing a hit or an obscurity.
The hits were plenty, and early on there was “Jive Talkin’ ” (the show opener), “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” (a duet with niece Samantha Gibb) and “I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You” (with Barry sharing lead vocals with son Stephen). For the early 1970s Maurice-fronted B side “On Time,” a smiling Barry sat near the drum riser as gruff-voiced Stephen sang his uncle’s parts and played a flashy guitar solo, giving the country-flavored song a darker, heavier feel.
Even though he consistently acknowledged his late siblings (including solo star Andy Gibb) via songs, comments and choice imagery (most notably incorporating latter-day Robin audio and concert footage into “I Started a Joke”), Barry seemed to keep his emotions in check most of the night. Oddly enough, he appeared to fight back tears soaking in the long ovation following his cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire,” which he personalized with a few falsetto ad-libs during the instrumental outro.
Beth Cohen, one of three backing singers dressed in black who occupied a riser to the left of the drummer, came up front to handle lead vocals for a trio of Barry-penned 1980s hits for other stars: “Islands in the Stream” (Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers), followed by “Guilty” and “A Woman in Love” (Barbra Streisand).
With “Nights on Broadway,” the supper-club style segment gave way to a feeling of disco-era decadence that continued with a medley of “Night Fever” and “More Than a Woman,” as blue and purple lights reflected from a spinning disco ball high above the stage. In presenting Bee Gees songs from the group’s different eras without his brothers, Barry somehow managed to add another layer of quality and depth to the catalog.
Barry Gibb’s Mythology: The Tour continues May 23 with a show in Wantagh, N.Y., followed by performances in Chicago (May 27), Concord, Calif. (May 31), and Los Angeles (June 4).