The funniest moment of Barry Manilow's show Friday night at the Merriweather Post Pavilion came at the beginning of "Some Kind of Friend," wherein Manilow sang about dreaming he led a rock 'n' roll band. Of course, Manilow's concept of rock was an impossibly fluffy confection, the sort of thing designed to make Lionel Richie seem daring by comparison. There are no edges anywhere in Manilow's music, no underlying aggression or threat; only smooth, homogenized, highly rehearsed mainstream entertainment.
There was no arguing the professionalism of this performance. Thanks to a competent backup band, every musical cue was firmly in place, keeping the show moving like a well-oiled machine. Manilow, too, slid smilingly through the show, mugging, dancing and joking with the fans in his best show-biz style. Even when a guest vocalist plucked from the audience warbled "Can't Smile Without You" in a key some distance from Manilow's own, the star simply grinned and let the wrong notes fall where they might.
As such, it was packed with hits, but somehow, Manilow didn't seem as interested in those golden chestnuts as he might have been. "Mandy," "It's a Miracle," "I Write the Songs" and others were offered in truncated versions, and far more attention was devoted to the jazzy material Manilow wrote for his "Paradise Cafe" album. But Manilow's aspirations to jazz singing seem mostly misguided, as his bald, belted-out delivery is far better suited to such musical melodrama as "Read 'Em and Weep."