November 27, 2016
Googling her name during the afternoon NFL games conducting strenuous research into Barbra Streisand's career, it dawned on me that not only was Sunday night's Toyota Center stop the legendary performer's only Texas date on her "The Music, The Mem'ries, The Magic" tour, but it would also be her first tour stop in Houston over the course of her 50+-year-long career.
As if we didn't have enough of an inferiority complex.
Streisand confirmed this (which would have saved me some trouble) when she emerged on Sunday night in a black cowboy hat, welcoming the audience to her first ever Texas date (take that, Dallas!). She also said this was her first time in Houston, after greeting us with "Howdy, H-Town!" She even claimed she'd be making a visit to Killen's BBQ, so keep your eyes peeled in Pearland.
The next two and a half hours were Streisand's chance to offer a retrospective of what has been, by any qualitative measure, one hell of a career. She's one of only a handful of performers to have won an Oscar, an Emmy, a Grammy and a Tony (an honorary one, but still). Streisand walked the audience through her acting roles in Funny Girl and A Star Is Born (with accompanying Kris Kristofferson chest hair footage), her directing career (Prince of Tides, Yentl), and her long history of collaborations with the likes of everyone from Stephen Sondheim to Jamie Foxx.
That Streisand is 74 years old is no shocker; she's been performing since before the Bay of Pigs (maybe Castro died of grief knowing he'd never see Babs in person). What was pleasantly surprising was how full and strong her vocals were. Songs like "The Way We Were" and "Papa, Can You Hear Me?" rang through the arena, bringing to mind favorable comparisons to Adele a few weeks prior. But unlike with Adele, every anecdote wasn't about an ex-boyfriend.
And while there were the expected hits, Streisand also reached back into her "trying to be hip in the ’70s" phase with the disco two-fer of "Woman In Love" and "No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)," her duet with Donna Summer. They, like just about every other song, were warmly received.
"Just about"? Well, yeah. Streisand is unabashedly liberal, and drew a smattering of boos when, while discussing her career, she said the one thing she really wanted was to see a woman in the White House. There was also some muttering during the video presentation during her cover of Carole King's "Being at War With Each Other," which depicted protests from the Vietnam War on up to Black Lives Matter. I heard one person making the reliably idiotic comment about entertainers needing to stick to entertaining. This before singing along with half the songs.
I'm not sure how to navigate the cognitive dissonance that comes from claiming to be a fan of someone while maintaining ignorance of that person's (decidedly overt) political leanings. And this after Streisand made a point of introducing several notable Houstonians in the audience, including George Foreman, Johnson Space Center director Ellen Ochoa, and George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush, saluting the former President's spirit of bipartisanship and Mrs. Bush's outspokenness and efforts to promote literacy. What a pinko monster.
Streisand's longtime avoidance of the Lone Star State was likely less one of deliberate neglect and more a result of the stage fright that's plagued her entire career. To that end, and though it wasn't easily visible to a good chunk of the crowd, a large Teleprompter hung from the rafters of the Toyota Center, helping (we're guessing) to keep her grounded, and also to stay on point during "People," which she said she initially thought should be about "people who *don't* need people." Moe Szyslak would agree.
This visit wasn't just long overdue; it was also probably the last time we'll see Streisand perform in Houston, or Texas at all (don't hold your breath for a SXSW appearance). And while show tunes may be "timeless," as Streisand put it, her kind of career was rare to begin with, and is even more difficult to pull off now.
Personal Bias: After Neil Diamond, Barry Manilow and Tom Jones, I was just trying to complete my "Concerts by People Your Parents Made Out To" superfecta.
The Crowd: Here's where I'd make a joke about skipping The Walking Dead, only to find myself among them, but it was a long weekend.
Overheard In The Crowd:
Overserved Lady: "This drink is too sweet. Could you add some sweet and sour to it?"
Bartender: "That's...not how sweet and sour works."
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Random Notebook Dump: "Is Sammy her son?" Later: "Oh, it's a dog."
The Way we Were
Being At War With Each Other (Carole King cover)
You Don't Bring Me Flowers
Woman in Love/No More Tears (Enough is Enough)
Children Will Listen
Papa, Can You Hear Me?
Who Can I Turn To (When Nobody Needs Me)
Losing My Mind
Isn't This Better/How Lucky Can You Get?
Don't Rain On My Parade.
Happy Days Are Here Again
I Didn't Know What Time It Was