Stayin’ Alive

People often forget the Bee Gees had the talent and good fortune to become huge rock stars in a career before and after their famous “Disco Era” image. More often than not, their contributions to the musical landscape in many forms always seemed to be overshadowed and underestimated because of it. As a family of brothers they created a huge body of work, songs that have become timeless through the years because their music was that memorable and that good.
However, all of their fortune has been marred by tragedy. Maurice Gibb died in 2003 and Robin Gibb passed away in 2012. Younger brother Andy Gibb (who had a solo career and sang with his older brothers occasionally) died in 1988. Barry is the last Gibb standing.
Their tragic history only heightens what a tribute show can deliver. While some aren’t crazy about these types of shows, it’s really the only way fans of the music will ever hear the music live again. And people still want to hear the music after all this time. It also has to come from a group who respects the legacy and delivers the music in the same manner as the originals if they were still here.
That is where the “Australian Bee Gees” come in. They actually started years ago when the Brothers Gibb still were in full stride but now find themselves delivering music to ever increasing and appreciative audiences. They are reminding people of the huge contribution to the musical landscape the Gibb brothers are personally responsible for delivering, before and after disco.
There was more to the Bee Gees repertoire than “Stayin’ Alive”— much, much more. Apart from the Beatles and Rolling Stones, no other group has come close to producing such a consistent quantity of music that has lasted more than 45 years. And with such variety — songs such as “The New York Mining Disaster,” “Massachusetts,” “How Deep is Your Love,” “Night Fever,” “Jive Talking,” “Lonely Days,” “I Started A Joke,” “Tragedy” and “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart.”
Those are just the songs they recorded. Bet you didn’t know they also wrote “Grease” (Frankie Valli, 1978); “If I Can’t Have You,” (Yvonne Elliman, 1978); “Guilty” (Barbra Streisand, 1980); “Heartbreaker” (Dionne Warwick, 1982); “Islands In The Stream” (Dolly Parton & Kenny Rogers, 1983); “Chain Reaction” (Diana Ross, 1985); and “Immortality” (Celine Dion, 1997).
They are the only songwriters in history to have five songs in the Billboard Top 10 at the same time.
All this material to work with has created a demand for the Australian Bee Gees to the point they have a permanent home in the Excalibur Hotel Casino in Las Vegas, plus a touring company. It is the original cast from the Vegas show performing at the Riverside Resort when they make a return trip Wednesday-Sunday, June 12-16. Band members are Michael Clift (founder, producer and original Barry); Dave Scott (Robin); Wayne Hosking (Maurice); Tony Richards (bass guitar/ and a producer); and Rick Powell (drums).
They have performed their spot-on Australian Bee Gees show for more than 26 years with over 4,000 performances in 40 countries, in addition to making regular stops at the Riverside Resort. They deliver a full-bodied show that actually educates audiences just how creative the Bee Gees were.
We talked with Clift, a.k.a. Barry Gibb, about the music, their residency in Vegas, and the show they bring to town. Here’s his take…

How have you and the guys managed to have a lengthy career in Vegas despite the overwhelming plethora of entertainment options?
The first thing is you focus on the thing you’re doing but then you also have to be mindful of what the market’s doing. There have been big changes within the years — we’re at 19 with the residency and we’ve just been signed for another five years, which is fantastic. I mean, it’s great to be here but we’ve also seen the other side of it — you know, shows closing very quickly. So we’re always mindful of the fact that we’ve been lucky to have such a great run. But we want to keep it going and we’re actually doing a big overhaul of the show as we speak, just before we open up in the showroom at Excalibur. I think it’s because we’re positive and always trying to keep the show moving forward. We get a lot of return business and work — and even Laughlin has been a staple for us since 2005. We’ve managed to do it every year since and, again, we get people to come back and see us every year. So it’s important to be doing something new at the show for those people who have seen the show many times.

There is both a Vegas cast and a touring cast — which guys are coming to Laughlin?
Well, we made a decision a few years ago, of course, we have sent a few touring casts down there. But the Vegas cast was the touring cast before the residency for many years with the original lineup. The three of us are still together after 24 years, so we’re actually coming. It will be the Vegas cast, which is also happens to be the original cast of the show coming down.

Are there new elements to the Laughlin show this time?
It’s similar to what we did last year, but there have been a few changes just in the way the show runs. But basically we’re covering two eras, depending on two points of view, I suppose — the One Night Only sort of era that was toward the end of the Bee Gees’ career, like a real retrospective, a modern look at the time. Then we have a sort of retro second half of the show — we float back to the ’70s to make a lot of fun and have a nice costume change. So we’re doing songs from all eras, not just the ’60s and ’70s, because there’s a lot of great stuff from the ’80s and ’90s. Most of their stuff came from the ’60s and ’70s, where the big hits were, but we like to have lots of aspects of their career, like they would if they were still touring.

How difficult was it in the beginning to put this show together?
The biggest challenge we had when we put the show together — it was before YouTube, so we were sort of flying blind before the internet. It sounds funny, but we couldn’t just go “how did they do such and such,” and Google it, because there was no such thing as Google. I tell my kids that, they’re 14 and 17, and they look at me like, “you’re insane. We know you’re old, but really?” It was before the internet and mobile phones, we really had to do it from memories — my memory of watching the Bee Gees performing and Barry’s distinctive way of singing, and the way he looked — he looked very serious so I look pretty serious, and it sort of evolved. The song selection we just took from memory. So it wasn’t like we had this massive list of songs. We can go on the internet for information now. Before that, if you wanted to know all the Bee Gees songs, you had to find a document or a book that listed all their songs.

What is the biggest misconception you’ve run across when it comes to the Bee Gees?
I think a lot of the misconceptions were they were just a disco band, and they had a great career before in the ’60s in London, as well as in Australia way before that. Where they formed is another sort of misconception. They were born in the U.K., but came to Australia when they were very young, they formed as a band in Australia, so, of course, we claim them. They really cut their teeth on the music scene in Brisbane and Sydney and they were introduced through their upbringing in Australia, which really formed them.

Do you like reminding audiences of their great, prolific catalogue that goes beyond disco?
We do the show in character. We don’t pop out and talk about the Bee Gees in the third person, so we really remind them by doing the songs in the show. And because we’re blurring that line between us, saying we are the Bee Gees, and the audience believing that we are, we sort of deal with it in that way. We talk about songs that were written around the ’80s and saying we wrote them, but that’s what we’re trying to say. I think just performing them in the show, we’re reminding people the songs were written for Barbra Streisand and Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers — and we kind of do it in a humorous way, so it doesn’t sound like we’re trying to make a point. It’s definitely important to let people know that the Bee Gees had this great career in the ’80s writing for other people.

What sets this show apart from other Bee Gees tributes?
I think it’s the attention to detail. We were lucky that we had three people who had a pretty strong physical resemblance or you could make whoever look like they had a physical resemblance, with grooming or growing beards. But also we put a lot into the costumes, adding to the look and the details — then we worked with the music and the pattern of the way they spoke and how they interacted with each other, their humor, and as time went on, with the help of videos, we really honed it and I think that’s the difference. If people can just forget they’re watching a tribute band for an hour and a half, and feel they have that real experience of watching the Bee Gees live that’s what it’s all about.
Let everyone know we’re really keen for them to come back and see the show. We always look forward to coming down to Laughlin.


AUSTRALIAN BEE GEES

Don’s Celebrity Theatre within the Riverside Resort

Wednesday-Sunday, June 12-16 (8 p.m.)

See “Showtimes” for ticket info