This show was more romantic than Valentine’s Day … and a lot more authentic.
With his four-piece band (grand piano, guitar, upright bass, and Count Basie’s favorite drummer, Harold Jones) and a deep-red curtain that shrunk the stage, Bennett made the vast expanses of the Colosseum as intimate as the Bootlegger Bistro. Similarly, it often seemed like his concert of mostly jazz standards was pure Old Vegas nostalgia. But his music tapped into a deeper vein, an Old American nostalgia. When Bennett sang “The Way You Look Tonight,” for example, it was a distillation of all romantic comedies down to the bittersweet promise of true love at their core.
Because he’s a family guy, Bennett’s daughter, Antonia, opened with four standards. Her voice was like a Jolly Rancher—intensely sweet yet sort of brittle. But it wouldn’t have mattered what she sounded like.
There was a certain stiffness to Bennett’s movements—the only hint of his 86 years amid his gusto. But move he did: A choreographed dance with his daughter during their duet of Stephen Sondheim’s “Old Friends.” Lots of Mediterranean-style hand gestures. An athletic spin to the line, “Who’s got the last laugh now” during “They All Laughed.”
Some older performers use storytelling as a substitute for music making. Bennett needed no such crutch. He gave just enough background for the audience to connect but not so much as to distract from the music. A few highlights: “Rosemary Clooney and I were the first American Idols.” “Bob Hope gave me my name.” “I’ve been singing 50 years … I’ll be honest, 60 years.” “I like rock ’n’ roll, but I love jazz. That’s American music.”
The night’s only disappointment was the audience. Either they were too old to stay out till 9 or they just lacked manners. An hour into the merely 90-minute show, the exodus began. With each encore, it increased. And these encores were no duds, but included Bennett’s most famous songs: “The Best Is Yet to Come,” “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” “Smile.” He even found relevance in the past with “Gershwin’s most contemporary song,” “Who Cares?” which tells of love amid foreclosure. Before the final encore, when Bennett actually walked offstage, the exodus crowded the aisles. But Bennett wasn’t offended. He returned to sing a tear-inducing, pared-down version of “Fly Me to the Moon.” When the legend took his final bow, a group of remaining fans walked onstage and shook his hand, setting everything right. ★★★★☆