Any Bee Gees tribute band would face a difficult challenge reaching the vocal stratosphere where Barry Gibb’s voice lived during the group’s 1970s superstardom.
So did Tony Mattina meet the standard Saturday night as he, taking on Barry’s vocals for the Canadian-based trio Stayin’ Alive, and fellow “Brothers Gibb” Todd Sharman (Robin) and Joseph Janisse (Maurice) presented 26 Bee Gees hits with the Omaha Symphony?
Sometimes. But not nearly enough to lift a good concert into a memorable one.
That says less about Mattina’s vocal abilities, however, than it does about the inimitable nature of the British-flavored falsetto that Barry Gibb began using in the mid-1970s, just as his family’s reasonably successful pop act caught the swelling disco wave.
That falsetto — the highest part of the male vocal range, sung in the head as opposed to the throat — had a piercing quality that propelled the intensity and passion of the Bee Gees’ succession of smash hits from the 1977 “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack and the brothers’ 1979 followup album, “Spirits Having Flown.”
In fact, Mattina did quite well throughout the two-hour concert in emulating Gibb’s styling, particularly the dynamics and vocal phrasing familiar from the songs’ original recordings. Unfortunately, Mattina’s falsetto was just a little too breathy to lift up the performances of “Emotion,” “Too Much Heaven” and “Love You Inside Out,” all in the first act.
His imitation was much better in the second act with “More Than a Woman,” “Night Fever” and “How Deep Is Your Love,” which helped energize a Holland Performing Arts Center audience that had been noticeably tepid.
The success of the tribute band’s harmonies rose and fell in like manner, though Mattina and his “brother” bandmates, Sharman and Janisse, were consistently able to duplicate the Bee Gees’ sound on their hits of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Sharman effectively channeled Robin Gibb’s lead vocals on “I Started a Joke,” “Lonely Days” and “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart,” while Janisse made his own falsetto match Maurice Gibb’s in echoing the last choruses of “Nights on Broadway.”
And the three “brothers” certainly had the Gibb look down: Barry’s beard, his and Robin’s blond manes, Maurice’s cool hat and sunglasses and the all-white suits they wore in the second act (as opposed to all-black outfits before intermission).
Stayin’ Alive’s set also included several hits that Barry Gibb wrote for other singers — the title song from the “Grease” movie (for Frankie Valli), “Islands in the Stream” (for Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton) and “If I Can’t Have You” (for Yvonne Elliman on “Saturday Night Fever”).
Interestingly, Mattina’s best “tribute” performances of the night came when he took the lead vocals on “I Just Want to Be Your Everything” and “Shadow Dancing.” Both were written by the Bee Gees for their youngest brother, Andy Gibb, who rocketed to fame himself as a solo act (though it always was evident that the elder Gibb brothers doubled as Andy’s backup singers on the latter’s recordings).
The symphony, led Saturday by Resident Conductor Ernest Richardson, and the rest of the Stayin’ Alive band generally stayed in the background. But electric bassist Chris Mullin and drummer Bob Di Salla were solid, and rhythm guitarist Joe Peeres carried out familiar solo riffs with skill.
The trio unfortunately laid an egg with “Stayin’ Alive,” which simply lacked the spark that originally made it so memorable. But the group sparkled on “Tragedy,” the best-selling song from “Spirits Having Flown,” which closed the regular set. Mattina did his best Barry Gibb rendition of the night, and backup singer Cheryl Hardy carried out the final soaring note that brought the audience to its feet. The group captured that vibe again on “You Should Be Dancing,” the latter of two encores.