Tony Bennett at the Bord Gais Energy Theatre, Friday, 12 September 2014

Tony Bennett’s backing band got a nice reception in a sold-out Bord Gáis Energy Theatre on Friday last, when they strolled on and gave the audience a pleasant warm up 20 minute master-class in small band jazz.  But this was nothing compared to the eruption of warmth and excitement when Mr Bennett himself hit the stage, creating an atmosphere which was to keep building throughout this short but oh so sweet concert.

Now 88 years old, Tony’s voice has aged magnificently.  And it is of course a tool he has been using for 60 years to extol and refresh the beauty of his beloved American songbook.

The swing numbers – Stepping Out With My Baby and The Best Is Yet To Come – swung appropriately, but it was the mid-tempo numbers and ballads where we really felt why Frank Sinatra once called Bennett the best singer in the world.

Maybe This Time was an early highlight, as Bennett wowed the crowd, getting inside this Liza Minnelli song with his perfect expressive diction and soaring range.  Many singers in this genre lose the elasticity and control of their range as they get older, but Bennett seems only to have gotten better.

One can imagine him singing each song slightly differently each night, as he does not always hit the exact note you would expect, but it never jars.

Another big number was For Once In My Life which is one of several songs where he cuts to some skilful band interplay before reprising the climax very effectively, thus effortlessly manipulating a willing audience.

Bennett plays songs by some of the bigger songwriters of the songbook era, such as Jerome Kern, but he also credits some lesser known writers, as well as giving us his take on the occasional (but always interesting) marriage between jazz and country when he plays a delightful version of Hank Williams’ Cold Cold Heart.

As an artist who has one of “those” songs – i.e. a song completely associated with one artist and which he knows he wouldn’t get away without playing – Tony slips his one in to the set about four songs before the end.  We are referring of course to I Left My Heart in San Francisco, which naturally brings the house down.

The finish is equally strong, with a lovely pairing of Smile and When You’re Smiling coming before a final encore which was to leave the audience stunned.

Bennett is known for singing the occasional song sans-microphone, but we were uncertain whether he still does it at 88 and in a theatre the size of this one (close to 3000 people).  But, yes, he really did, closing his show by doing Fly Me to the Moon with no microphone whatsoever.  This reviewer was in the upper circle and heard every syllable of a beautiful take on the Bart Howard classic.

As a final point – Tony was warm, gracious and witty throughout, and it was lovely to hear him say that this theatre is one of the ‘great concert halls of the world’. Let’s hope the theatre survives and thrives, so that Dubliners can have more great nights like this one.