Barry Manilow says he will always be a New Yorker.
“I walk fast. I talk fast. I’m always rushing for a seat on the subway in my head,” says the Brooklyn native, calling from his longtime home in Palm Springs, California. “When I did concerts in the middle of the country, I had to slow down so they could understand me. In New York, it was easy.”
And after Manilow wrapped up his “One Last Time!” tour last year, which he said would be the final time he would be on the road for months at a time, his mind turned to songs about his spiritual home. “It had been in the back of my mind for a while to do an album of New York songs,” Manilow says. “And I wanted to write some stuff because I know about it.”
The result was “This Is My Town: Songs From New York” (Stiletto / Decca), which combined classic Big Apple songs with new Manilow work like the title track and memories of growing up in Williamsburg that turned into “Coney Island” and “Lovin’ at Birdland.” Fans loved the concept, sending it to No. 1 on Billboard’s pop albums chart after it was released last month as well as lining up to see him on a short tour, which includes a stop at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum on Thursday.
(Manilow is quick to point out that the five shows planned this month are not a tour, simply a way to promote the album, though he adds that he would be interested in perhaps doing residencies in Los Angeles, Chicago and at Nassau Coliseum, playing every few months. “The promoters think I could do it,” he says. “We’ll see if it works.”)
He laughs at the idea that some thought his “One Last Time!” tour signaled the start of retirement plans for the 73-year-old. “Look, I’m more surprised than anybody that I’m still here,” Manilow says. “I thought I’d be retired or dead by now. But I love this new album and there are three more in the pipeline. The well hasn’t run dry yet.”
However, Manilow says he can’t explain his longevity, adding that record executives told him his career as a pop star would last five years. “I believed them, but it lasted 10 years,” he said. “After that, I was so sick of me. I thought, ‘I’ve done everything I can in pop music. Let me do something else.’ And I did the ‘Paradise Café’ album and I did different kinds of albums after that. I never went back to chase the charts. . . . I still don’t know how this is happening.”
When earlier this month Manilow received the BMI Icon Award, the highest honor the music rights management company Broadcast Music Inc. gives, some tried to explain. “Barry Manilow is a visionary whose exceptional body of work has shaped the course of popular music for over five decades,” said BMI vice president Barbara Cane. “He has left a lasting imprint on every aspect of music, influenced the careers of his contemporaries, and touched the lives of many with his unique gift of artistry. His musical brilliance defies genre expectations and I cannot think of a more deserving recipient.”
Manilow, however, offers most of the credit to his fans. (He made headlines last month when he revealed that he had kept his 40-year love affair with his manager, and now husband, Garry Kief, a secret because of his fans. “I thought I would be disappointing them if they knew I was gay,” Manilow told People magazine. “So I never did anything.”)
“I’m telling you that from the very beginning, I never wanted to do this,” Manilow says. “I was a musician, a composer. I never wanted to be singing and getting up on the stage. When I first played at the Bijou [Café in Philadelphia], I was terrible. I could feel it. . . . But people were so supportive.”
Manilow said he always wanted to repay that fan support. “It was always me and them,” he says. “I do everything I can to entertain them. One year, I even did a tour with stairways and girls with feathers. But all people talked about was the little section of ‘This One’s for You’ when I talked about my grandfather. We realized we didn’t need the girls with feathers after that. It’s always been about me and them.”
WHO Barry Manilow
WHEN | WHERE 7:30 p.m. Thursday, May 25, Nassau Coliseum, 1255 Hempstead Tpke., Uniondale
INFO $18.25-$248.25; 800-745-3000, ticketmaster.com
Though Barry Manilow is best known for writing the songs that make the whole world sing — selling 85 million albums worldwide and landing 11 Top 10 singles on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart along the way — he has always been proud of his arranging skills.
It’s a talent that he showed off at the concert tribute to music executive Clive Davis during the Tribeca Film Festival last month. There, Manilow strung together a 14-song medley of his hits — starting with “Could It Be Magic” and “Mandy,” moving through singalongs like “Can’t Smile Without You” and “Copacabana,” then ballads “Even Now,” “Weekend in New England” and “Ready to Take a Chance Again,” and then turning upbeat again with “It’s a Miracle,” “I Made It Through the Rain,” “Looks Like We Made It” and “Daybreak,” before closing with the anthems “One Voice,” “This One’s For You” and “I Write the Songs.”
Manilow also showed off his arranging skills on his new album “This Is My Town: Songs From New York” with “NYC Medley” — which starts with Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind” and goes through classics such as “New York, New York” (from “On the Town”), “Manhattan,” “How About You?,” “The Sidewalks of New York,” the disco classic “Native New Yorker” and Jay Z and Alicia Keys’ “Empire State of Mind” and closes with “Theme From ‘New York, New York.’ ”
“I love arranging,” Manilow says, adding that he tried all sorts of songs for “NYC Medley,” including a rap song by Grandmaster Flash. “At one point, I thought, ‘Have I gone too far?’ But there are so many great standards about New York.” — Glenn Gamboa
Helpful Coliseum hints
If you’re going to NYCB Live’s Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum for the first time since it reopened on April 5, here are some hints on working your way through the Uniondale arena.
PLAN AHEAD FOR PARKING
You can purchase parking passes in advance through Ticketmaster for $20 or less every night. (If you wait to pay when you enter the lot, parking for family shows is generally $5-$15, $30 for concerts and $40 for special events.)
USE OTHER ENTRANCES
Instead of funneling everyone through the main entrance, various entrances are now open around the Coliseum, making it easier to get into the building faster from the parking lot.
If your seats are on the floor, the fastest way to get to them is to take the main escalator down to the event level and enter there. New food and drink concession stands are also located at that level as is a new bank of bathrooms.
USE THE CONCOURSE
If you’re just trying to find your seat, the fastest way is to go through any portal and get to the new inner concourse, which is far less crowded but still allows you to get to any section. Also, if you’re looking to only get a drink, go to the outer edge of the concourse where the drinks-only concessions are. The inner part of the concourse is where to get food and drink.
FIND A CHARGING STATION
Worried about your smartphone running out of juice from all the selfies you want to take on your visit? There are several charging stations built into The Overlook, the area just inside the main entrance that offers a view of the arena’s interior. Bring your own charger.
JOIN THE NEWSLETTER
For those looking to get the jump on hot tickets before they go on sale to the public, the Coliseum has started a newsletter that promises to offer special presale notifications and codes. Sign up at nycblive.com/connect-with-us/newsletter-signup.
— Glenn Gamboa