Tony Bennett Plays To A Sold-Out Rocksino Crowd
May 13th, 2018
So when I bring on new contributors to North Coast Music Beat I always tell them to tone down their excitement. I want them to express their feelings and passion about a given artist, but please, please stay away from excessive gushing, what we like to call hyperbole here in the writing biz.
Of course, when you're witnessing a living legend, and to be honest, that's a term that can't be used too much any more because many of the legendary artists are no longer with us, it's difficult not to trip over a thesaurus-filled heap of praise when describing someone with a history and discography as monumental as Tony Bennett.
A crooner who will turn, god bless him, 92 this August, Bennett has been performing for almost seventy years. Coming to prominence in the late 1950s and continuing to perform to this day, his age hasn't slowed him down. Nor have the accolades: He has been given many honorary doctorate degrees, even receiving one from the Cleveland Institute of Music in 2010. His contributions to the Equal Rights movement cemented his reputation as a humanitarian; he participated in the 1965 marches from Selma to Montgomery along with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Perhaps best known for "I Left My Heart in San Francisco," this nineteen-time Grammy winner brought his quartet to Northfield's Hard Rock Rocksino last night.
Playing a whopping twenty-seven song set, Bennett ran through the Great American Songbook and had the packed house on their feet several times throughout the evening, acknowledging song after song with short bursts of standing ovations. His daughter, Antonia, performed a twenty-five minute set prior to her famous dad taking the stage. The younger Bennett, crooning in the same fashion as her father, has a distinct voice and has been compared to a few of her dad's contemporaries such as Billy Holiday.
Starting the evening with a trio of tunes ("Watch What Happens," "They All Laughed" and "This Is All I Ask") that warmed up the audience, Bennett then turned to Gershwin's "I Got Rhythm" to get the audience on its collective feet for the first time. Then he offered up "I'm Old Fashioned," a declaration that explains the divide between crooners such as himself and many of the here-today-gone-tomorrow musicians. His appeal, truly, goes back to the simple, tried-and-true formula of the tunes he's been singing since the waning days of the Korean War.
When he and his incredible four-piece ensemble (Harold Jones on drums, Gray Sargent on guitar, Marshall Wood on the upright bass, and Tom Ranier on the piano) offered up "Steppin' Out With My Baby," a certifiable set of goosebumps crawled up this reviewer's arms. While his voice isn't as strong as it was twenty years ago, the nonagenarian projected well and hit all the right notes. It seemed as if he held a little air in reserve, letting the tune build to its denouement, and then Bennett let loose with a note that carried the song to its conclusion. Never once did his voice crack or waver; the command he had over his vocals was truly impressive for a guy who's sung these songs literally thousands of times.
The rest of the set was a who's who of American songwriters: Jimmy Van Heusen, Jerome Kern, Jule Styne, Johnnys Mercer & Mandel, and Harold Arlen were all represented during last night's show. Legendary tunes such as "The Shadow Of Your Smile," "The Good Life" and "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" all appeared, among others.
His signature tune, "I Left My Heart In San Francisco" was offered late in the set.
Closing with "Fly Me To The Moon," the crowd once again came to its feet.
And there they stayed, for more than five minutes. They clapped, and whistled, and smiled as they exited the theater, knowing they had witnessed something pretty spectacular.
Well, I think I got through that without too much hyperbole, wouldn't you say?
But, boy, it was difficult.
Photos and Review by Brian M. Lumley