Manhattan Transfer, 1980: Shows I’ll Never Forget

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At the Minnesota State Fair, St. Paul, Minnesota: I was there to see Martin Mull. I wasn’t even sure who he was opening for, but I went to the dusty grandstands on that hot August afternoon specifically to see Mull. At the conclusion of his matinee performance, I decided to stick around for the headliner, who would not take the stage until that evening. I had the ticket, after all.

Manhattan Transfer played a great set and had a hot touring band. I was won over by the four vocalists and was impressed by how much they allowed their backing group to shine. I knew the hits, of course – “The Boy from New York City,” and the more recent “Birdland.” But every song was fine. The harmonies were perfect, as were the solo features. Even when Janis Siegel wrenched every possible note of romantic despair out of “I Saw You,” it worked.

After performing “Birdland” as the encore, the musicians departed. There was a long stretch before the four vocalists returned sans band to harmonize around one, hastily placed microphone at center stage. They closed with what seemed to be an impromptu, yet perfectly executed version of “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square.” Beautiful.

After the concert, I managed to get back stage. My priorities had changed: Martin Mull was no longer my prime interview target. This was good, as he shouted to me from his trailer that he would not be interviewed. Instead, I had the opportunity to speak briefly with Manhattan Transfer’s tenor vocalist Alan Paul, who was nothing but gracious and cooperative. I asked how long they had been out on the road, and my usual tour questions.

Being so struck by the last number, I was certain that the group had added the selection as a treat for this appreciative Midwest audience. So, I asked Paul how often they sang “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” as a second encore.

“Almost every night,” he said.

And so my education continued in the art of stage performance and how the pros are able to make an audience feel special. I arrived at the fair completely unaware of who was playing that night. After the concert, I stayed on the Manhattan Transfer until their last stop.

Tom Wilmeth

Tom Wilmeth

Tom Wilmeth, an English faculty member at Concordia University-Wisconsin since 1991, has given presentations and published widely on the topics of literature and music. Author of 'Sound Bites: A Lifetime of Listening,' he earned a Ph.D. at Texas A&M in College Station. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Tom Wilmeth
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