I expected to be thrilled, impressed and entertained last Saturday night; We went to see and hear Tony Bennett in concert in the Great Auditorium. I didn’t expect to cry…
The show opened with Tony’s daughter, Antonia, who sang several songs to warm up the audience. This audience did not need warming up. The auditorium holds about 6,000 people and my guess would be that there weren’t more than 600 empty seats and that includes a wraparound balcony! Antonia is sweet looking and sounding, but certainly lacks real depth to her voice. She doesn’t have the timbre and resonance of a singer with a strong voice. Unable to sustain or project, Antonia manipulated the microphone by pulling it away from her mouth as she trailed the last notes of a line. Oh well, this is not about her anyway.
Tony walked on stage to a very long and loud standing ovation. He was clearly thrilled to receive it and to be on stage. He appears to love performing; He plays to the crowd, he sings and he relates bits of his career and who he sang and worked with along the way to stardom. He ends almost every song with either his arms raised up as if in “ta dah” and “there you have it” or salutes the audience with two thumbs up. I don’t remember (that far back) if these gestures were always part of his performance or not, but then again, who cares? He has the pipes and a magical velvety-all-in-the-right-places voice.
He sang song after song, sometimes really belting it out and you wonder how does a man his age still maintain that voice and the ability to sustain such high notes for so long. Yes, he was quite surprising in that regard. We were regaled with the likes of Smile, I Wanna Be Around, Fly Me to the Moon, and The Best is Yet to Come. And then he charmed us all with what he referred to as his hits; The Way You Look Tonight, Because of You, The Very Thought of You, As Time Goes By, Once Upon A Time, Because of You and of course, I Left My Heart in San Francisco. Just AMAZING! Really freaking amazing! The entire audience leapt to their feet at the end of I Left My Heart in San Fransisco and it was truly one of the longest standing ovations I ever witnessed. Of course he was perfect for the Auditorium crowd, 95% of whom listened to his soft crooning voice during their teen-age and twenty-something years. Oh and how those memories flood back to you!
A summer night on the Jersey Shore, in a remarkable venue – an enormous wooden structure that is well over a hundred years old, and Tony Bennett singing love songs to you. I have never ever sat in the front row of a concert; Last Saturday night, Peter and I had front row seats and I sat there mesmerized by his performance. Was it that he sang so well? No, of course not; He was a great singer, now he is a legend who still can hit some of those high notes, and sing a love song to every woman in the room at the same time.
I’m not sure exactly what song put me over the edge; The first tear rolled down my cheek somewhere between The Very Thought of You and Once Upon A Time. Yes, the words are beautiful. Yes, Tony crooned the words beautifully but I don’t think those two things brought on the tears. Well at least not completely. When you are my age and you know you are closer to the end of your life than the beginning and you see someone 20 years older than yourself doing something he not only does so well but also loves doing it, you, well at least I, was really emotionally moved. In a way, this consumate artist who makes every song his own and has been doing so for 60 years of his life and mine, creates a level of comfort that makes him seem like an old friend. The tears are the good-byes to my youth, the days when I heard Tony Bennett sing so many of these songs. Listening to songs that you probably made out to, danced to and day-dreamed over what seems like another lifetime ago, it dawns on you that it was a lifetime ago!
Tony sang his last song, blew kisses to the audience and left the stage. The crowd would have none of it. They stood up, clapped and clapped and clapped some more. The musicians stayed on stage so I thought maybe he would come back and he did! He sang one more and still they wanted more. He tried to leave the stage and the audience applauded longer and louder than before. So he brought Antonia out and they sang a duet and then he was gone.
There was one other special moment during the concert and this had more to do with where we were than just with this great singer. Tony Bennett, like every other single performer I’ve seen at the Auditorium said that this building, this great venue is a magnificent structure in which to sing. To prove that they don’t build them like this anymore, he asked that the entire sound system be turned off and then he sang; his words washing over the audience much like the shore a couple of hundred feet away! Clearly he was heard at the back of the room and top of the balcony, proving the mastery of his own talent and that of the craftsmen who built the Great Auditorium 140years ago.
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