Saturday 14 December 2019

Review: Tony Bennett at the Bord Gais Energy Theatre

Easy listening

Tony Bennett
Tony Bennett
John Meagher

John Meagher

Much is made of rock's elder statesmen - people like Dylan, Simon and Young - but Tony Bennett makes such ageing luminaries look positively sprightly.

At 88, Bennett is still going strong and it says something about his remarkably long career that his first US number one single was 63 years ago. Bruce Springsteen was a two-year-old toddler when Bennett topped the Billboard chart for the first time with 'Because of You'.

And those who think he subsists entirely on the nostalgia circuit couldn't be more wrong: on Friday, he releases an album of duets with one Lady Gaga called Cheek to Cheek. He pays tribute to her tonight and, for her part, the New York pop singer has been fulsome in her praise for one of America's true giants of song.

Few could argue that his vocal is as flawless as it was when he was in his pomp decades ago, but it remains a wonderfully powerful and evocative instrument. His voice is in especially fine fettle on a lovely version of 'I'm Old Fashioned' and he rolls back the years impressively on crowd favourite 'I Left My Heart in San Francisco'.

His backing band is exceptional - a crack quartet whose repertoire runs the gamut from smooth easy listening to rousing mid-20th century jazz. There is a playful camaraderie between the musicians which Bennett feeds off and like so many of his veteran peers he ensures that each player is given his moment in the spotlight.

At his age, it's perhaps inevitable that so many of the songs look back to the past. There's a great sense of melancholy beneath the smooth surfaces, not least on 'Once Upon A Time' with its remembrances of young love and how much has changed in the subsequent years. There's real pathos in the moment when he sings: "But somehow once upon a time never comes again."

Late on, he delivers a memorable version of 'Smile' and notes with pleasure that when he had a hit with it in the 1960s he received a postcard from Switzerland, from the song's composer, Charlie Chaplin.

There are signs of his voice struggling a little towards the end but rather than detract from the experience it offers a reminder of how beautifully fragile vocals can be and how the passage of time can twist and shape them.

After praising the magnificence of the concert venue, he demonstrates how special the acoustics are by singing 'In Other Words' without amplification. The barely-there accompaniment serves to heighten a moment that's magical.

Irish Independent

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