Saturday, March 27, 2010 | 2:01 p.m.
Whatever was going on during Barry Manilow's Friday night performance at Paris Las Vegas, there was certainly some significant vocalist-microphone disagreement.
Early in his media preview performance, Manilow's microphone whined loudly with feedback. This happened three times that I noticed. As a result, Manilow was Dow Jonesing his mic, moving it up and down to find a suitable vocal level. He finally asked for the volume to be dropped a bit. To address such technical bugs is why the concept of "preview" performances was conceived in the first place, but there still is this one bug in Manilow's show that needs a blast of Raid.
The whole mic issue led to some curious looks from some of us in the audience, as in, "Is this Britney Spears revisited?" But I'll defer to someone who was a lot closer to the action than any of us, one of Manilow's three female backing singers.
"No. He isn't lip-synching," Keely Vasquez sent today in a tweet DM (direct message via Twitter, folks). "He just sounds really good. Trust me, I hear him every day."
Having seen a few obviously lip-synched performances over the years, I have something of a reliable "Synch Meter." The times to look and listen for augmentation in any performance is during the dance numbers. Recently I caught Rick Faugno at South Point, who does quite a lot of singing while dancing, and his heavy breathing was picked up by his head-mounted mic. Same with the higher-intensity production moments at Donny & Marie at Flamingo, where the two Osmonds expertly time their deep breaths between vocal segments. During her show at the Colosseum, Bette Midler took a break to catch her breath and explained, "This is what happens when you sing in your own voice."
Manilow's dancing in his new production isn't so rough-and-tumble that he's obviously winded. After the early microphone problems he performed, "New York City Rhythm," a song with a lot of dancing, and his vocals didn't seem particularly labored. But to accuse an artist of Barry Manilow's caliber of lip-synching — huge charge. It's like saying Eric Clapton doesn't play his own licks. You have to be sure of what you're saying about a singer/songwriter who has been performing onstage for more than 40 years. I didn't walk out believing Barry Manilow synched his show. Chalk it up to faulty electronics.
I still say the two greatest examples of obvious lip-synching I've seen in Las Vegas were Toni Braxton, four years ago during her preview at Flamingo Las Vegas. During the first four songs, all dance numbers, Braxton needed radar to locate the vocal track. Spears, twice, has obviously mouthed performances in Vegas: During her infamous appearance during the 2007 MTV Video Awards at Pearl Theater at the Palms, and again last year during her "Circus" tour stop at MGM Grand Garden Arena. That night, the person with the easiest job of anyone related to the show was the sound guy whose job it was to twice turn Spears' mic on, once at the beginning of the show ("Hi Las Vegas!") and again near the end ("Bye Las Vegas!").
But Manilow, he's got something of an artistic reputation to uphold. I seriously doubt he would put that reputation at risk, last night or any night. Just re-calibrate the mic, eh?
Day at the museum
A couple of weeks ago, during my trip to Dallas to report about Cowboys Stadium, I took a trip to an attraction I'd long wanted to visit: The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza. This is the former Texas School Book Depository building, the site where President Kennedy was assassinated Nov. 22, 1963. I attended this tour with two colleagues, AP sports writer Tim Dahlberg and Kevin Iole of Yahoo! Sports, both in town for the Manny Pacquiao-Joshua Clottey bout, who agreed it was a must-see for anyone visiting Dallas.
For years, the century-old School Book Depository building stood a monument to grief, and after the company that owned the building moved out in 1970, Dallas County acquired the building. Many residents called for it to be torn down, to help eradicate the memories of the world-changing tragedy and its perceived blight on the city's image.
Instead, the county turned the first five floors into office space, leaving the sixth floor — where Lee Harvey Oswald was positioned to fire at President Kennedy — empty. But because the building and Dealey Plaza had become a highly popular spot for visitors who wanted to see this famous spot and learn more about the assassination, the Dallas County Administration Building was renovated and dedicated as a museum on President's Day, 1989. The seventh floor, too, has been opened for rotating exhibits related to the assassination.
It is a powerful experience to visit this spot, to stand near the glass-encased sniper's nest and look down on the plaza, and to watch and hear the news accounts of the time. The attractions are arranged intelligently to lead visitors through Kennedy's life in office and put the powerful video and photographic images in proper context. Near the end of the tour, my thoughts turned to our own efforts to bring the Las Vegas Museum of Organized Crime Enforcement (Mob Museum, to you and me) to fruition in Las Vegas. Mayor Oscar Goodman unveiled some specific exhibits for the Mob Museum this weak.
Similar to the Sixth Floor Museum, the idea of paying homage to organized crime strikes many Las Vegans (and many non-Las Vegans) as preposterous. But if it is handled intelligently, with the proper historic touch, it can work. I saw it work in Dallas, where over the years more than six million visitors have been taken back in time to know what this event really felt like, and what it meant. It can happen here, too.
Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at twitter.com/JohnnyKats.