Bragging? Not in Tony Bennett's Repertoire at London Concert
Most artists playing a show in the week of their No. 1 album triumph would shout their achievements from the stage. Some might play it down a little. Surely only Tony Bennett would not mention it at all.
The record-breaking octogenarian is not just the king of the charts with his "Duets II" set, but the king of humility. In his beguilingly old-school world, to trumpet the impressive opening sales of the collaborative release would be simply vulgar.
Sony puts worldwide shipments of the album so far at 750,000, with debuts at No. 2 in Canada, No. 3 in Australia and No. 5 here in the U.K. to place alongside that Billboard 200 victory. The record proves beyond any doubt that Bennett's timeless appeal has bridged yet another generation gap, but even so, he was not about to turn his time-honored live set into a gaudy infomercial.
That's not to say this one-off Oct. 3 show at the London Palladium, the historic 2200-capacity location that he calls his favorite venue, did not include some special guests. It's just that, with the vast majority of his latest recording partners hailing from North America, such guests were never likely to make this concert, which preceded one in Denmark Oct. 5 and then a run of U.S. dates.
Bennett has said that he had planned to extend an invitation to perform with him here to Amy Winehouse, who makes her sadly poignant, posthumous appearance with him on the album's "Body and Soul." Instead, he introduced Sony labelmate Leona Lewis, who was a somewhat nervous but adequate accomplice on "Who Can I Turn To," taking the part of Queen Latifah on the new album version.
Earlier, Dame Cleo Laine, a doyenne of British jazz singing now a few weeks from her 84th birthday, dovetailed on a version of "The Way You Look Tonight," the role played on "Duets II" by Faith Hill. The only other tangential reference to the record came during Bennett's performance of his 1963 hit "The Good Life," which he dedicated to Lady Gaga. "Great singer, what a performer," he enthused.
All the same, this masterful performance could have come from almost any point in the second half of his 60-year career. That's even accounting for the supposed limitations of age, which seemingly do not apply to the ever-urbane but never-showy vocal craftsman. His love of what he does is clearly undimmed. "As you can tell by now," he said late on, "I only do old songs. I like them."
Accompanied by a supremely tasteful quartet of piano, guitar, double bass and drums, he essayed an easy swing on the opening "Watch What Happens" and "They All Laughed," but by the third track, the melodramatic "Maybe This Time," it was clear that Bennett's ability to inject his warm voice with power and depth was still available on demand. Dressed in his usual dark suit, with red handkerchief providing the slightest dash of colour, he even danced a few discreet steps from time to time.
Thus the show sashayed along for 70 minutes, accompanied by some stories behind the songs, such as the feedback he received from the writers themselves when he covered Hank Williams' "Cold, Cold Heart" and Charlie Chaplin's "Smile." The latter lyrical sentiment sums up a beautiful positivity about both life and work that was infused through this show.
Tony Bennett's setlist, Oct. 3 at the London Palladium:
"Watch What Happens"
"They All Laughed"
"Maybe This Time"
"I Got Rhythm"
"Cold, Cold Heart"
"Sing You Sinners"
"The Way You Look Tonight" (with Dame Cleo Laine)
"Steppin' Out With My Baby"
"Just In Time"
"Because of You"
"I Wanna Be Around"
"Once Upon A Time"
"The Good Life"
"For Once In My Life"
"The Shadow of Your Smile"
"I Left My Heart In San Francisco"
"The Best Is Yet To Come"
"Who Can I Turn To" (with Leona Lewis)
"When You're Smiling"
"Fly Me To The Moon"