For the past few years, Barry Manilow fans have had to smile without him. The multi-faceted entertainer — whose more than two dozen Top 40 hits include “Mandy,” “I Write the Songs,” “Looks Like We Made It” and “Can’t Smile Without You” — made a decision in 2004, not long after the last Detroit area show, at The Palace of Auburn Hills, to give up touring in favor of a “sit-down” residency at the Las Vegas Hilton.
“I want my life back,” explains Manilow, 64, who’s doing a series of weekend one-offs to promote his latest album, “The Greatest Songs of the Seventies,” a new holiday set for Hallmark, “In the Swing of Christmas,” and a DVD collection of “The First Television Specials.”
“I want to get off the road and stop living out of suitcases and ordering bad room service and waiting for planes. I am done with that.”
The Hilton engagement, which Manilow began in February 2005 and has been extended to 2008, allows him “to play with my band and continue to play around onstage but stay home and not have to go all over the world.” And even now, he has one caveat for any of his road dates; “I have to be able to go home right after, and I don’t have to be on the road.”
Absence, however, has clearly made the hearts of his fans grow fonder. In January, Manilow — a Brooklyn native (born Barry Pincus) who began his career writing commercial jingles and backing Bette Midler — sold out three nights at New York’s Madison Square Garden. His other shows have been selling well, and he professes surprise that the audience is still there 33 years after he released his first solo album.
“Y’know, I’m always surprised if there’s anybody sitting out there,” says Manilow, who’s sold more than 75 million albums and has won Grammy, Emmy and Tony awards. “I always figure they would’ve given up on me years ago. I don’t understand how this is happening.
“I’m a very grateful man, but I don’t understand it.”
Taking his show back on the road in any form, meanwhile, allows Manilow to do more than he can with his Las Vegas production, polished 85-minute concerts which focus on his hits as well as material from his four “decades” projects — including ’50s and ’60s albums that preceded this year’s “... Seventies” set and his ’40s-flavored 1994 release “Singin’ With the Big Bands.”
Outside of Vegas, however, he can play longer — and dig deeper into his catalog.
“I bet you there are more people in that crowd that would love to hear ‘Brooklyn Blues’ and ‘Why Don’t You See the Show Again’ and ‘All the Time’ and ‘I Am Your Child,’ ” Manilow says. “They’ll work there better than in Vegas, where that audience really just wants to hear the hits.”
While Manilow is tripping through his — and, in the case of the decades albums, others’ — past, he’s also eyeballing the future. A “Songs From the Seventies” DVD, from a concert special taped in Brooklyn for PBS, is due out Jan. 29. And, he says, there have been some discussions with his label chief Clive Davis, who conceived the decades project — which has sold more than 6 million albums so far — about an ’80s album.
“When he mentioned that, I said, ‘Really?! — but that’s what I said when he came up with the whole idea of (the decades albums), too,” Manilow says with a laugh. “When he said the ’80s, I thought, ‘Well, isn’t that where all the synthesizers came in? But when I looked up the batch of songs that came out in the ’80s, there were some great things that I probably could do.
“I’m just following (Davis’) lead once again. He is the genius record man of our century, and I’m the grateful recipient of his brilliance. If he says ... ‘Do a covers album and I’ll give you a No. 1 record,’ I will follow him everywhere.”
Nevertheless, Manilow acknowledges that, “I sure do miss writing songs,” something he hasn’t done since his “Scores” album in 2004. But he does have a set of original material in the works, which he describes as a conceptual piece that “believe it or not is a little bit more rock ’n’ roll-oriented than I’ve ever tried. I’m not sure I can sing it, but I’m sure having a ball writing it.
“I don’t know where that will end up, but I’m having fun with it. I do produce and arrange, and I’m a musician and a performer, so I get my rocks off doing all those four things on somebody else’s songs. But it sure feels good to be writing my own again, too.”
Barry Manilow performs at 8 p.m. Saturday (Dec. 15) at The Palace, Lapeer Road at I-75, Auburn Hills. Sunset Strip will open. Tickets are $149, $89 and $49. Call (248) 377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.
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