There are a lot of people today who keep the tradition of the Great American Songbook alive. In my humble opinion, most just aren’t that good at it. They’re “good,” don’t get me wrong. It’s just that with the exception of a select few, most of them are missing that certain indefinable something that the great crooners of yesteryear had. It’s been a longtime dream of mine to see any of the greats in concert. If I had a bucket list, this would definitely be on it. The stars never seemed to align. The greats never came to my area, I never had money, and… well, most of them have since passed on. Now there’s only one left standing. At age 90, Tony Bennett is still going strong.
For my birthday this year, my kid sister surprised me with tickets to see Bennett live on stage, at one of the best venues in the Dallas / Fort Worth area: Bass Performance Hall. Classy. As if it could be otherwise.
I won’t pretend I had the best seats in the house. I was at the bottom tier, very back row, nearly dead center.
I can say the picture doesn’t do this justice. When you’re physically in the seat, it’s still quite the view, and a lot closer to the stage than it looks in this shot. And I have a tiny pair of opera glasses that I brought along in anticipation of worse, having sat up on tier five directly above this seat in years past. Turns out, I really didn’t need them, but they did come in handy for watching the musicians go to town. Sound wise, Bass Hall has amazing acoustics, some of the best DFW can offer. The corresponding problem with this is that it means you also hear all the voices around you, including the asshat one row up and eight seats to the right who insisted on talking at maximum volume through the entire show and had the balls to tell me afterwards that he didn’t say a word. Yes, I’m that guy that will call people on it. A once in a lifetime experience for, dare I say, a great many people in that room, shouldn’t be ruined by some idiot like that.
Aside from that, this show was everything I could have hoped for and more.
First we got a couple of tunes from the Tony Bennett Quartet. This ensemble of master musicians blew me away. Tonally, they reminded me a great deal of the Vince Guaraldi Trio. Individually, each of those guys could have held their own in a symphony. Collectively, that much talent cannot possibly be suppressed, nor should it be.
After their introduction, Antonia Bennett took the stage and performed a handful of numbers. She’s got a beautiful voice, and she was most definitely aided by that quartet. She’s fundamentally missing that “it” factor that makes these old tunes pop, probably because she’s standing in her father’s shadow instead of on her own. That’s a tough place to be. But you could tell she was giving all the reverence due to these great songs. I think she could have done more to make them her own, but she did have a style to them. Her love of the music shone through for sure. Without that, you’ve got nothing. On that front, she’s most definitely her father’s daughter.
After Antonia’s set, there was a voice over the speaker system that announced, “And now, a word from Frank Sinatra.” The scratchy old recording that followed was likely from The Frank Sinatra Show. Frank’s endorsement of Tony as “the best voice in the biz right now” gave me chills in that moment. And then he stepped out. Antonio “Anthony” Dominick Benedetto. The living legend. I’ve seen lesser receptions at the concerts of rock legends. The house went nuts. Of course, a performer feeds on that, so you can imagine how the show was.
I tried to get some pics of Tony early on in the first couple of numbers, but the lighting in play simply wouldn’t allow for anything more than a smudgy blob. C’est la vie. I missed my opportunities when the house lights were up because we were all applauding our hearts out. When I say he’s still going strong, I mean that. That guy has more energy than I do, and I’m Antonia’s age.
If you can name the song from the classic Bennett set list, I can pretty much ensure he played it. “The Good Life” and “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” are pretty much gimmes, being his signature tunes. He did the very first tune he ever recorded, “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.” He sang plenty of Gershwin, a track by Stevie Wonder… the list just went on. During the instrumental section of “The Good Life,” he remarked, “I did this one as a duet with Lady Gaga. She’s really great. You should buy her albums… because she needs the money.” And he didn’t take a break either. In fact, when it came time for the traditional “leave the stage, get the audience to applaud, and come back for an encore,” he just looked at the audience and asked, “Mind if we keep going?” Enthusiastic responses here. “Thank you very much!” And he did this at least four times, for almost another 20 songs. The thing about it, the classic tunes are short. You don’t always realize that in the moment, but the show as a whole lasted only two hours. I was sure we were in there for four. Time expanded in its own bubble just for that show. That’s the magic of great music. I would have been willing to go four more if he’d be willing.
To cap it all off, the final number… he turned off the mic and belted it out without amplification. Yeah.
I’m a little sleep deprived this morning, though that’s certainly nothing new for this insomniac. Totally worth it. That was the kind of evening that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.