Talk about a class act. One of the very last true entertainers to still walk among us, Tony Bennett, treated an at-capacity house to a glimpse of what a legend looks and sounds like this past Monday night at Mahaffey Theater in downtown St. Pete. And he did so without the aid of any fancy tricks or sleight of hand. No, the only thing the 89-year-old crooner needed to show off was that smooth, silky voice that still sounds as soothing and and slick as ever. Bennett did plenty to show off his greatest gift, and was met with spirited applause and several standing ovations in return. [Text by Gabe, photos by Tracy.]
Taking the stage after a brief opening set of standards courtesy of Bennett's daughter Antonia, the native New Yorker made his way on stage dressed to the nines in pale yellow blazer, blue shirt and black slacks, and sporting an ear-to-ear grin. Tony looked like he was heading to a formal wedding ceremony instead of a concert stage. Greeted with the first of many ovations he'd receive throughout the performance, Bennett wasted no time in getting down to business.
"Watch What Happens" was an appropriate opening number for this magnificent display of sheer talent and charisma that only Bennett can ooze when he takes the center spotlight. Accompanied by a tasteful quartet of musicians, the subtle piano/guitar/upright bass/drums ensemble that backed Bennett never overshadowed the man and his golden pipes; instead, they complemented his still strong and commanding vocal elegance and showed off some pretty dynamic chops of their own.
A cheerful, almost giddy Bennett slinked through classic after classic from his wide and expansive catalog of standards and jazz numbers and seemed elated with the rounds of cheers and applause he deservedly was showered with throughout his 75-minute program.
Whether taking a few spins during the cheerful "They All Laughed" or a couple of choreographed steps with his daughter — who rejoined him for a duet version of songwriter Steven Sondheim's "Old Friends" — Bennett's moves and body language made it clear that he felt right at home on the stage as he has for more than six decades.
Audible sighs and swoons were overheard from the seats as Bennett coasted through gorgeous renditions of "Our Love Is Here To Stay" and "The Way You Look Tonight." Debonair, suave and romantic as ever, Bennett still knows how to hold a captive audience in the palm of his hand and delight them to no end. The man is a pro ... and the epitome of an American treasure.
Whether proudly announcing accolades he's recently received from prestigious jazz publication Downbeat magazine or mentioning a personal invitation to perform for England's Royal Family, Bennett still seems touched by the outpouring of recognition he still regularly receives. "I've had a lot of hits ... and I've been around a while ... but you guys keep me young!" he acknowledged and it really sounded heartfelt and not some phony staged line.
Making mention of the recent duets album he released with pop diva Lady Gaga (2014's Cheek to Cheek), Bennett joked "You all should go out and buy that record...she needs the money!" which was met with a roar of laughter. Tony has jokes to go along with his panache and pizzazz. They don't make 'em like Tony Bennett anymore.
A firm supporter of the arts, a moment of poignant seriousness came when Bennett referenced the gorgeous theater in which he was performing and the ominous threats that sadly greet so many similar buildings all over the world. "No matter who gets elected around here, make sure they don't tear this beautiful theater down. I played here a couple of years ago and I'd like to come back here in a couple of years too," he swore which again was met with thunderous applause from the mostly 55-and-up-aged crowd.
The night seemed to fly by but was aptly closed with, again, a showcase for Bennett's superior vocal range. Without the aid of a microphone, Bennett closed the show with a jaw-dropping version of "Fly Me To The Moon" joined by his guitarist at the center of the stage. As a deafening hush fell over the entire room, the man of the hour filled every crevice of every balcony in the hall with his ringing voice. A showstopping number to close a brilliant performance; that's the sign of a consummate performer and a guy who knows just what he's doing when he climbs aboard a stage.
At nearly 90, Tony Bennett once again proved that he's from another time, place and generation of performers; but, in doing so, he made it very clear that style, talent and showmanship never go out of style.