Contrary to the opinions of some naysayers to whom I spoke in the days before the show, Tony Bennett's concert Sunday night at the Anselmo Valencia Tori Amphitheatre did not offer the opportunity to lament his lost range. Instead, it was a celebration on how much of his amazing voice that Bennett, at 86, retains.
Between songs, Bennett thanked his audience for making it to the show, as if the fans had spontaneously dropped by and the concert wasn't a precious event for which many of them had been eagerly waiting for months.
Bennett followed a 20-minute set by his daughter, singer-actress Antonia Bennett. A striking 39-year-old redhead in a blue frock, the younger Bennett showed off a pleasant jazz-oriented voice, but in terms of firepower it was more suited to an intimate supper club setting than a large arena. She did admirably, however, on a charming, blue-note-tinged interpretation of "Embraceable You."
Her dad, clad in a yellow blazer, performed for a little more than an hour. He never left the stage for a break, so no one seemed to mind much that he didn't return for an encore. The concert was filled with hits and memories, anyway, thanks in part to an extended medley in addition to full-length tunes.
Sure, occasionally Bennett nearly spoke a few lyrics here or there, but he was always tuneful about it, and the device often seemed employed for aesthetic reasons. Clearly his tenor is still reliable, as he sang clearly and strongly throughout. He ended almost every number by hitting and holding a high note, proudly, like a showman should—and the audience applauded adoringly.
Bennett was accompanied by his longtime backup group: Drummer Harold Jones (a veteran of Count Basie's band), bassist Marshall Wood, guitarist Gray Sargent and pianist Lee Musiker. They provided deft, subtle accompaniment and sometimes swung furiously, especially on "Steppin' Out With My Baby," "The Best Is Yet to Come" and "I Got Rhythm."
But my favorite songs of the evening were the wistful, melancholy ones, on which Bennett proved he is still the master of sensitive phrasing. He brought chill-inducing pathos to "Maybe This Time," "Boulevard of Broken Dreams," "Cold, Cold Heart," "But Beautiful," "Once Upon a Time" and "The Shadow of Your Smile."