Barry Gibb, figurehead on the prow of 30 years of pop survival...
Forget Barry White – Barry Gibb is where it’s at. The women howling at the back of the stadium for a glimpse of his tight, suggestive trousers think so. The men who would sell their wives to Richard Branson just to have one strand of that immovable, luxuriant hair, they think so too. Robin and Maurice are here as well, but Barry is the mane man, the magnificent figurehead on the prow of 30 years of pop survival. He hasn’t changed a bit, and it’s terrifying.
Tonight is a celebration of this longevity, yet for all the talk of adaptation, it’s always going to be 1975. They are the family department store of pop, everything you could need under one roof and never knowingly undersold: basement for folk rock and garden furniture; first floor for disco and womenswear; mezzanine for AOR and a nice cream tea. When they sing ‘Islands In The Stream’, Pras Michel’s sample of choice for ‘Ghetto Supastar’, they change the lyrics to show they’re down with the hip-hop massive. For the [I]Titanic[/I] fans, Celine Dion, the missing Gibb brother, turns up on-screen for a trawl through the saline gloop of ‘Immortality’, paradoxically causing the sane to pray for early death. They even, unfathomably, sing the Manx national anthem as a tribute to their birthplace. Wembley yawns down the planes from the sky, yet the brothers [I]must[/I] be all things to all people, whether ironic disco dollies, couples in padded anoraks clapping very slowly, or breeders of defective cats.
Yet even though there’s a lurking suspicion that were you to cut these men open they would be made entirely of hair, they’ve still managed to write a hundredweight of songs that know their way around a heart. Gathering fraternally around a single microphone for the maudlin folk of ‘New York Mining Disaster 1941’; curdling their voices for the splendidly bitter ‘You Win Again’; giving it some attitude for the vicious disco glassing of ‘Tragedy’ – they should, in their own words, be [I]dancing[/I]. The constant charge of pop magic, the iconic glow of charisma – they seem to have gone the same way as the Titanic. It’s incredible that you can spend so long in the weirdest business on earth and remain this implacably inert.
Yes, they look pleasingly foolish; Maurice dressed for his Wednesday night residency at a Kentish Town wine bar; Barry, the suburban lizard king; Robin, trying for normality with a sensible hairdo and sensitive frown. They’ve had their brushes with excess too – drugs, alcoholism, Lulu – but you don’t feel that frisson that should come in the presence of legends. They’re mid-Atlantic, mid-brow, middle-aged, suspended in a vacuum where nothing can ever touch them or their perfect hair.
“We’re going to try and cram in as many hits as we can and see where we end up,” Barry says at the start of the show, an unconvincing attempt at crazy, rock’n’roll spontaneity. The final destination is, of course, exactly where they started out. Everything changeth, but Gibb changeth not.