Concert Review: Bennett at the Bowl! (08/02/2013)

It’s my Dad’s birthday weekend. We hadn’t been to the Hollywood Bowl yet this summer. Who better to go see at this iconic venue than Tony Bennett? The man is still performing at the top of his game!

Me, my parents and my little sister had a great time. We stopped at Oinker’s for some food, then raced through Amoeba Music to stock up on more CDs to add to my growing collection: Stephen Sondheim, Oscar Peterson, Joey DeFrancesco, Charles Gounod, John Pizzarelli, and, of course, the man of the hour, plus too many others.

Finally we arrived, a little more than an hour before the concert started. By coincidence, Tony Bennett and my Dad were both born in August. This concert took place a day before Tony Bennett’s 87th birthday today (August 3). Musically, we had Tony Bennett’s current rhythm section: Lee Musiker on piano, Gray Sargent on guitar, Harold Jones on drums, and Marshall Wood on bass. Tony Bennett’s daughter, Antonia, came to the stage for the first set, a collection of eight standards ranging from Noel Coward to Johnny Mercer to Cole Porter. Her voice was okay, if not great, and the arrangements supported her very well. She did a nice cover of nOel Coward’s “Sail Away” and Cole Porter’s “From This Moment On” (written for the film version of Kiss Me Kate), as well as a few other numbers I didn’t know until now. She even acknowledged her dad’s birthday with an uptempo “You’re a Lucky Guy.”

Intermission took half an hour. Everyone was waiting anxiously for Tony Bennett’s first number. At 9:00 Tony came on, with the swinging vamp to Michel Legrand’s “Watch What Happens.” For 65 minutes, the performer swung through his greatest hits, from “Cold, Cold Heart” to “Just in Time” to “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” There were uptempo numbers, ballads, a few mid-tempo tunes, and some surprises too. I didn’t know there was a verse to “The Shadow of Your Smile” until this concert. Harold Arlen’s “One for My Baby” received a swinging Count Basie-style treatment from the rhythm section, with Tony phrasing the tune as only he could. All of us are still impressed at his abilities to hit the notes he was able to hit that night, particularly in Gershwin’s “They All Laughed.” Hearing the sound of his high A on the line “Who’s got the last *laaaaaaaugh* now” bounce off the Bowl’s concrete was truly something memorable, one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences. He did all the songs I was hoping for and more; I was especially anxious to hear Irving Berlin’s “Steppin’ Out with My Baby,” a Fred Astaire favorite that has become one of Bennett’s signatures. The number was done faster than usual. The ballads were the highlight, with favorites like “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” Kander and Ebb’s “Maybe This Time,” Charles Strouse’s “Once Upon a Time,” and Charley Chaplin’s “Smile.” Sam Coslow’s “Sing You Sinners” and the optimistic “When You’re Smiling” allowed for some audience participation, as Tony got us all to clap on two and four while the rhythm section vamped along. Also of note was the cover of Stephen Sondheim’s “Old Friend” in duet with his daughter. After “When You’re Smiling” he took a few bows, managing a jog back on stage before his last one. He then did an encore of Gershwin’s “Who Cares?” Afterwards, he brought out his daughter once again, who had the audience sing “Happy Birthday.” What an appropriate conclusion to this swingin’ evening! Now to learn some Tony Bennett songs for upcoming gigs!