Michael Bublé engaged in a little market research on Friday (Sept. 23) as he brought his “Higher” tour to Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles. He asked how many people were seeing him in concert for the first time.
When a large percentage of the audience signaled that they were, in fact, first-timers, Bublé joked about what their preconceptions of him must be — the Christmas guy who would sing a set of ballads and polite toe-tappers like “Haven’t Met You Yet.” His show shattered those preconceptions. It’s a big, wildly varied show, and Bublé is a master showman.
The term “Great American Songbook” long ago came to refer to a specific strain of American music — the timeless songs that were written by the likes of Cole Porter and Irving Berlin from the 1930s to the ’50s. Bublé sang some of those songs in his set, but he represents what could be called the “New Great American Songbook” — a broad mix of songs and styles, from the Latin rhythms of “Sway” to the exhilarating disco smash “You’re the First, the Last, My Everything” (RIP, Barry White). Bublé included songs associated with Nat “King” Cole and Dean Martin, but also Elvis Presley, Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye. And why not, Bublé seemed to be saying. Let’s enjoy the broad range of popular music rather than limiting ourselves to just a segment of it.
On the “Higher” tour — named after his ninth Reprise studio album, which was released six months ago — Bublé seemed to enjoy his role of introducing his audience to genres they may not have known before. “Enjoy your first big-band song,” he said by way of introducing “When You’re Smiling.”
Bublé is in some ways this generation’s Barry Manilow. Both performers are personable and hammy, and make effective use of self-deprecating humor. (Bublé, catching a glimpse of himself on the video screens, blurted out, “I look like Kermit the Frog.”) Both gained a reputation for showmanship that has allowed them to headline major venues whether they had a current hit record or not.
Bublé is as genial as you would expect from his many TV appearances, but he uses considerably saltier language than they allow on NBC or PBS. Turns out the Christmas guy knows some four-letter words.
Here are five times Bublé reached “higher” on his L.A. tour stop:
Beefing up “Haven’t Met You Yet”
Bublé’s “Haven’t Met You Yet” remains his biggest Billboard Hot 100 hit. The 2009 single, which he co-wrote with frequent collaborators Alan Chang and Amy Foster, has the jaunty quality of Manilow’s sing-along 1977 hit “Daybreak.” But Bublé has beefed the song’s arrangement to something closer to Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” (which was among the songs piped into the arena as people were taking their seats). There were welcome Beatlesque touches on the song — a horn solo and the “love, love, love” chorus.
Silencing the chatters
While Bublé was singing “Smile,” the lovely ballad written by Charlie Chaplin and popularized by Nat “King” Cole, there was a steady murmur of chatter coming from the audience. Bublé stopped his performance and said, good-naturedly but with an edge, “I hear people talking. I feel I’m getting in the way of the good time they’re having. I’m going to sing this s— even slower if you don’t shut up.” This is almost certainly a recurring bit in his show. Bublé had introduced the song by asking the audience to give the song the respect and reverence it deserves, which set up this pay-off. And sad to say, audiences nowadays often act like they’re watching TV in their living rooms, so Bublé can usually count on hearing audience chatter. But hopefully he got his point across to at least a few audience members that there’s a time and place for chatting and a time for showing a little respect.
Taking it way down
While most of the show was energetic, Bublé brought the tempo way down for his 2005 hit “Home,” which was his first Hot 100 hit. He sat on the stage and sang the ballad, another co-write with Chang and Foster, with little backup. The song has such a strong melody that it lent itself to this stripped-down treatment.
A tribute to the King
Bublé performed most of his set on the main stage, backed by a large band, but one of the most effective segments in the show was on a secondary stage in the middle of the house. He was backed by a five-piece band on a three-song tribute to Elvis. At another point in the show, he name-checked the King as one of the performers from whom he had borrowed. He also cited Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Bobby Darin, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and The Mills Brothers. And he quoted Bennett, who purportedly told him, “If you steal from one person, you’re a thief. If you steal from enough people, you can call it research.”
Giving his band and back-up singers their props
Bublé had a smart way of sharing the spotlight with his band and backup singers. Their faces were shown, one by one, on the video screens, with their names shown as chyrons. It was a generous way of giving these pros the props they deserve.
Here’s the setlist for Bublé’s Sept. 23 show.
“Haven’t Met You Yet”
“Such a Night”
“When You’re Smiling”
“To Love Somebody”
“I’ll Never Not Love You”
“One Night With You”
“All Shook Up”
“You’re the First, the Last, My Everything”
“It’s a Beautiful Day”
“Bring It on Home to Me”
“How Sweet It Is (to Be Loved by You)”
“Cry Me a River”
“Always on My Mind”