Frank Sinatra he isn’t. But that’s OK. He’s only half trying to be.
Michael Buble played in the mostly full First Niagara Center on Tuesday, and only the hardest of hearts could’ve reasonably left without a bit of spring in their step. Buble is, after all, one of the most charming men on the planet, to say nothing of the concert stage.
He’s a “Great American Songbook” singer, mostly, though he does sing a few tunes of his own design, and mainstream pop tunes are far from off limits to the man.
So why the Sinatra-based dig? Well, how are we to interpret a crooner dressed in a tuxedo, fronting a group of overqualified jazz musicians happily grabbing a large paycheck to play very little in service of a set of songs that were proven to be “classics” before Buble was born? Tuesday’s show was Las Vegas all the way, baby. But, good Lord, was it enjoyable Vegas.
Whenever I go off on one of these “But it’s not authentic, and he’s just doing somebody else’s gig!” tangents, those who love me inevitably remind me that many folks are eager to be merely entertained, regardless of any lingering questions of authenticity.
Such advice came in handy during Tuesday’s show, for Buble is one of the most charming entertainers in contemporary pop music. His between-song banter provided many of the highlights, in fact.
A self-deprecating and eager to chat type of guy, Buble wasted no time engaging his audience; by the evening’s third tune, he’d already ventured into the crowd to sing “Happy Birthday” to “Sue, from Albany,” engaged a young woman in a wedding dress in a rather hilarious to-and-fro, and brought our attention to the fact that Buffalo Sabres defenseman Christian Ehrhoff was not only in the house, but is also a close personal friend. Way to keep it local, Mr. Buble!
So what about the music? It was, not surprisingly, performed impeccably by an impressive assembly of astute jazz musicians, all of whom bowed before the impeccable time-keeping of drummer Marion Felder.
For a “Look at the guy in the tux!” show, Buble’s performance on Tuesday was about as good as it gets. He opened with a sultry take on Little Willie John’s “Fever,” moved gracefully into one of the few songs with his own writing credit that would be played during the evening in the form of the Billy Joel-ish “Haven’t Met You Yet,” and after some exceedingly witty repartee with the crowd, dared to tackle Otis Redding’s version of “Try a Little Tenderness” and managed to do so without embarrassing himself in the least.
Off to a good start, then.
Buble, who sings consistently very well, though he never breaks into the realm of “Oh my God, this guy is one of the greatest singers I’ve ever heard!” tackled the Sinatra-related “You Make Me Feel So Young” with significant conviction, but somehow stumbled with his version of Van Morrison’s “Moondance,” which came across as lame (if startlingly in-tune) karaoke, and hit a wall with his own “Close Your Eyes,” which sounded like ’80s forgettables Nightranger covering a half-baked jazz standard. (Sorry! But true!)
Buble was at his best when it was obvious that a song he’d chosen to interpret had personal significance for him.
So the Barry Gibb-penned Bee Gees classic “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” became an absolute highlight, simply because Buble invested himself in the tune with complete conviction.
He wasn’t finished with the Gibb Brothers, either – he grabbed hold of “You Don’t Know What It’s Like,” too, and treated it with the same dignified expression.
Later, he’d be joined by openers Naturally 7 for a heart-rending take on the Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love,” which was another high point of the evening.
The crowd allowed Buble to hold it in the palm of his hand from the get-go.
Not surprising, really – he is an absolute master when it comes to crowd interaction. Seemingly humble, funny, engaging, off-color when it suits him, irreverent even more often, and apparently as in love with this deeply romantic strain of American song as the rest of us, he is a commanding presence on stage, and Tuesday’s show was par for the Buble course.