Bee Gees tribute concert honors 'The Kennedys of the music business'

If Matt Baldoni ever gets to meet Barry Gibb, he says, “I do have a pretty long list of questions for the man.”

At the top: ‘How am I doing?”

Why? “Because quite frankly,” Baldoni said, “If Barry didn’t like what I was doing, I couldn’t do this.”

Matt Baldoni. Australian Bee Gees ShowBaldoni is playing Gibb in The Australian Bee Gees Show, a multimedia concert tribute to the band that sold more than 220 million records, first as a rock act and then as perhaps the most identifiable band of the disco era. A family member who charts such things says other artists have professionally covered Bee Gees songs 535 times. 

On Thursday night (March 5), the company that first brought Denver RAIN – A Tribute to The Beatles, will give the Bee Gees the tribute treatment at the Buell Theatre.

No. 2 on Baldoni’s list of questions for Barry Gibb probably wouldn’t be a question at all.

I guess what I would like to say to Barry Gibb is, ‘Man, I am really sorry that your family ended up being the Kennedys of the music business, and that you have had to suffer this many innumerable tragedies,’ ” said Baldoni. 

“Think about it: All three of his brothers are gone. But believe it or not, their mom is still alive. She’s 94, I believe, and she has lost three sons, man. So I figure I better be on top of my game, because we are representing a family here.”

Baldoni, originally from Grass Valley, Calif., is a classically trained guitarist and tenor singer who has both portrayed Frankie Valli on stage and sung backup for him. He His Broadway and touring credits include Mamma Mia, Monty Python’s Spamalot and The Who’s TOMMY, and he has performed in an ongoing production of The Australian Bee Gees Show, housed at the Excalibur Hotel in Las Vegas. We got a chance to speak to him as he prepared for a performance in Fayetteville, Ark.

Australian Bee Gees Show

John Moore: Let’s start with the show. Would you say this evening is more of a rock concert or a theatrical musical, or a little of both?

Matt Baldoni: A little bit of both. The songs are really the star of the show. Everybody knows them. It’s our responsibility to reproduce them with the most accuracy and authenticity as we can. But there is also a huge theatrical element. We carry an insane lighting rig, and there are video walls behind the performers. We have costume changes to reflect different Bee Gees periods. It’s theatrical in that it’s a two-act show and there are some story and video segments included. And of course, we are portraying characters.

John Moore: But it’s less like Mamma Mai and more like, Rain, right?

Matt Baldoni: Yeah. It’s not simply a cover band. This is an entire production at Rain level.

John Moore: Do you get any feedback from the Gibb family?

Matt Baldoni QuoteMatt Baldoni: There is one older sister whose daughter organizes all of the different Bee Gees fan clubs all over the world. We speak to her regularly, and she monitors both our resident show in Las Vegas and our tour. We work with her to make sure that we are always respectful and authentic about what we are doing.

John Moore: So would you say the key to making the show work is authenticity, then?

Matt Baldoni: Yes, but I do think there is a point where attention to detail can become a little bit obsessive. Las Vegas has more of tribute acts than any other city in the world – and I have seen way more bad ones than good ones. I have seen some of the other guys, no matter who they are paying tribute to, get a little bit obsessive about their characters. But in all reality, this has to be fun. I am drawing from five decades of Barry Gibb – but there is a little bit of me in there, too.

John Moore: How long has this show been going now?

Matt Baldoni: It was started 18 years ago by a group of Australians. I am the only American in the front line of Bee Gees.

John Moore: So what is it like being the only American?

Matt Baldoni: I have had great training. All the guys I am singing with are Australian, and I have toured Australia a number of times. I would say I have seen a thousand times more of Australia than most Americans ever see. I have gotten to see all kinds of crazy things like Aboriginal people and backcountry farms all the things that really make Australia Australia. We’ve also visited the Gibb’s hometown in Redcliffe, Queensland, where there is a Bee Gees monument. We have seen their childhood home and we’ve sung in the hotel where they sang their first gig as children. That really helped me get a better understanding of the significance of these guys.

John Moore: Help me understand this whole Australian connection. I know the Bee Gees are the pride of Australia, but I always thought they were British, and grew up about an hour from the Beatles.

Matt Baldoni: They were born on the Isle of Man, off the mainland of England. Their father was a bandleader, and when the children were very young he got a gig in Australia. I guess Andy had just been born. So the entire Gibb family made the big voyage down to Australia. That’s where their entire childhood was spent, and that’s where their career started.

John Moore: I can guess which songs we are surely going to hear during the concert, but can you pick out a lesser-known song or two and tell us why it’s in the show?

Matt Baldoni: The show moves in chronological order. In Act I, we have both the ’60s period and the ’70s disco period. The ’60s really showcased Robin Gibb, as opposed to Barry. Robin sang lead on a lot more of the material. A song a lot of people know would be “I Started a Joke,” but we also have a couple others like “Spick and Speck,” which was their first No. 1 record. Also a very dark ballad featuring Robin called “I Can’t See Nobody.”

John Moore: If people only know the Bee Gees from their Saturday Night Fever disco period, how would you describe them as a band in that ’60s period?

Matt Baldoni: People like to lump them in with the Beatles but, unfortunately, every rock band that showed up after 1962 was lumped in with the Beatles. But in all reality, for us as musicians, the ’60s period is the most adventurous material for us to play. It requires more musical skill and a higher sense of awareness. When I get to Saturday Night Fever and all the disco stuff, that is just absolute hell on my voice. I have to sing way, way high falsetto for about eight songs in a row

John Moore: So what’s your favorite song to perform in the show?

Matt Baldoni: “How Deep Is Your Love?” Probably because I am a guitarist by origin, and I have some training in jazz, I really think the harmony and the chord changes are Beethoven or Gershwin-level brilliant.  I think that melody is going to go down in history. People are going to be singing that son a hundred years from now.

John Moore: Some people may not know just how many songs the Bee Gees wrote for other artists. What’s a title people might he surprised to learn the Bee Gees wrote for someone else?

Matt Baldoni: We do have a segment in the show where we play some of those, actually. The ’80s were a tough period for them, because when disco died, it died a really quick and horrible and painful death. And then they were like, “Oh my God, what the hell are we going to do?” But the guys never stopped working. The immediately went into the studio and started producing and writing for other people. I think one that most people don’t know the Bee Gees wrote was “Islands in the Stream” for Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton. Barry wrote songs for Michael Jackson. When I was in Frankie Valli’s band, we use to sing “Grease is the Word.” Barry wrote that for Frankie. He also wrote “Immortality” for Celine Dion, and “Guilty” for Barbra Streisand. 

John Moore: The death of disco was remarkably quick.

Matt Baldoni QuoteMatt Baldoni: Disco was over in about 5 minutes. What Barry says about it is pretty funny. He said, “Disco was great for every band but the band it was created around. He said, “For us, it was really awful. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, we were bigger than the Beatles, but we were a total joke, with the big teeth and the hairy chests and the medallions and the white bell-bottoms. All we did was write songs for a movie soundtrack.” It really hit them hard. So it’s nice that it’s no longer a joke and that people hold those guys with reverence again.