Barbra Streisand – Live at London's O2
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There can’t be many people who receive a standing ovation just for walking on stage. And not a half-hearted standing ovation by any means - we’re talking almost the entirety of London’s O2 arena.
But then, if you’re Barbra Streisand you’re probably used to that. She is, after all, probably the last great living legend.
Why? Oh maybe because she can still hit all the notes, live. Maybe because she’s only done 93 live concerts in her entire career, as she tells the crowd on Saturday night’s opening gig for her European tour.
It stems, apparently, from stage fright she suffered during a gig in the 70s which resulted in her shying away from concerts until the mid 90s. At one point she confesses that she finds it difficult to do long concerts and that she’d rather do a few songs but that ‘you can’t do that here’.
And there’s the problem, because that’s what she kind of tried to do... When you’re paying the kind of money Streisand commands for a gig – and why not, after all we’ve established she’s a living legend – you expect a full Streisand gig. Not Streisand and her Amazing Friends.
In this case, trumpeter Chris Botti, (joining Barbra for a version of the Birds of a Feather theme), her sister Rosyln Kind and her son Jason Gould. While they initially join her for duets, they often outstay their welcome for solo numbers – where I was sitting there was much unrest during the extremely loud trumpet moments and loud calls of ‘no’ when Gould asks if they should ‘do another number’.
I’m not disputing their talent or vocal ability – they are all good, but this is a Streisand concert.
And unlike a Cher gig (sorry to draw a lazy gay comparison), Streisand isn’t using the downtime to change into some new wonderful garment – we go from split skirt, to trousers, to a red gown with a cape that makes her look a bit like Supergirl as she walks away. But – just for the record – still looking amazing.
It all went a bit too far when Streisand was joined onstage by all of her guests - and a seemingly pointless choir – for a grand finale that involved a slightly preaching message about saving the planet and planting trees.
It’s all too often you hear the cry of ‘play the hits’ at concerts - usually from people who have no idea what the performer is promoting, or indeed from people who don’t usually go to gigs – and when you’re Barbra Streisand you don’t even NEED to play song after song from your Essential collection – the talent makes every number a delight. But when you repeatedly give the crowd 30-second snippets of some of your more mainstream numbers (Woman In Love, No More Tears, Don’t Rain On My Parade, Somewhere) it can be a little frustrating. It’s as though you know they want to hear it but just don’t want to do it. Though, in the case of Woman In Love, she explains her reasons for doing so.
There are, of course, classics – when she rises from the floor to THAT ovation, she shimmers in sequins as she sings On A Clear Day You Can See Forever. People seriously lose it – there was screaming AND crying. And it’s understandable – she’s incredible.
When she’s not singing but still sticking around, the interaction with the audience is brilliant. She’s funny and responds to every (much repeated) cry of ‘LOVE YOU!’ and gets the loyal fanbase to fill her in on gaps when regaling them with stories. Of particular note is a Q&A session where Barbra reads from cards filled in by the audience ahead of the gig. A woman gets Barbra to propose to her girlfriend on her behalf, which momentarily stumps the icon before she quickly quips “Play Evergreen at the wedding.” A roar shortly follows to indicate that the proposal has been accepted.
The power of Barbra – still a force to be reckoned with, just not one that should be sharing her sparkling stage.
Words: Darren Scott
Barbra Streisand plays London’s O2 Arena Monday 3 June – tickets here and then tours Europe. Details and tickets here.