Tony Bennett / Antonia Bennett – Oct 4, 2010 – Danville, KY – I have had the good fortune of attending literally hundreds of concerts over my lifetime, but nothing compares to seeing Tony Bennett the other night. It ranks up there as truly one of the greatest performances I’ve ever witnessed.
Because of his age (he’s 84), I’ll admit I had a different set of expectations for the night. We’ve all seen other so-called “living legends” on PBS: they wheel them out, they sing a little and talk a whole lot, because they can’t hit those notes anymore, and everyone applauds that the artist is, at least, still breathing.
Honestly, I was not prepared for Tony Bennett.
He hit the stage, looking maybe mid 60’s, but certainly not his age. At the end of his first song, he hit a high note and held it for several seconds. My first thought was “whoa, don’t blow out all your energy all at once.” Boy, was I mistaken. Not only did Bennett continue to belt out long, sustained notes, he hit them every time on pitch. I started out marveling at how a guy that old could possibly be singing that well. But, by the end of the evening, his age didn’t even matter any more. I realized I was witnessing one of the greatest singers of all-time. And, not some washed up, feeble version of what he used to be, but a man that truly has all of his talent still intact.
He went though fast numbers, like “I Got Rhythm,” swinging with the band, yet transitioned to slow numbers with ease. He could still roar like a lion, as in the end of “The Best it Yet to Come.” But, his tremendous voice showed off incredible nuances when he was accompanied only by a light piano or jazz guitar, as in the Charlie Chaplin song “Smile.” He told great stories of starting his career with Rosemary Clooney, how Bob Hope gave him his stage name (he was born Anthony Dominick Benedetto), and how Frank Sinatra pulled him out of the audience and told him to sing (“and when Frank tells you to do something, you better do it”).
The absolute show-stopper occurred during his encore, when Bennett set his microphone down, came to the edge of the stage and sang “Fly Me to the Moon,” without the help of amplification, accompanied only by a single guitar. The moment sent chills down everyone’s spine (a concertgoer mentioned after the show that if you weren’t affected by that “you have no soul”).
There are so many artists 20, even 30 years Tony Bennett’s junior who are shadows of themselves, going through the motions, night after night. Many of them need teleprompters to remember lyrics (Axl Rose, anyone?). Bennett, on the other hand, never sat down during his 90 minute set, and even danced a little when joined by his daughter, Antonia. What’s more, he did all the songs without missing a lyric. What’s amazing is that Tony Bennett is still capable of conjuring up the magic that made him a superstar in the first place, some 50 years earlier. And that, is nothing short of a miracle.
His daughter, Antonia, opened the evening, doing four songs of her own. She was radiant in her black dress and flowing red hair. Her vocal abilities, playfully quivering at the end of notes, showed that she’s paid attention at home all these years. Her voice, rather child like on her debut EP Natural, was a far more commanding presence in person. Here’s hoping for a live album from Antonia real soon.