There’s something about watching 86-year-old Tony Bennett effortlessly croon his way through a career’s worth of material that warms the cockles of the heart in a way that few entertainers can. He sashays across the stage flashing his million-dollar smile and forges an instantaneous connection with an audience seeking to recapture the magic of its youth.
The fact that he’s duetted with everyone from Lady Gaga to Bono to the late Amy Winehouse is a testament to an endless supply of cool that enables him to stay relevant in an industry that prioritizes youth more and more every day. His onstage demeanor is one of a seasoned artist who has seen it all and outlasted whatever shifts in societal taste have threatened to put his style of music on the backburner.
When he walked out onto the stage inside the Seneca Niagara Events Center on Friday night, he was greeted by a standing ovation without even saying a word, which tells a great deal about the level of respect he’s attained since scoring first hit song back in 1951.
Backed by a stellar jazz band, Bennett sang his ass off on one classic after another without displaying a hint of fatigue. “They All Laughed,” “Sing You Sinners,” and “Steppin’ Out With My Baby” sizzled all the way out into the gaming area as Tony’s voice appeared to get stronger as the evening went on.
He devoured the high notes on “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” and “I Got Rhythm,” while executing just the right touch of compassion on “The Way You Look Tonight” and “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.”
I had many people questioning why I chose to review Tony Bennett as opposed to my usual rock fare, but the reasons were evident only to those able to see past the sea of gray hair and recognize greatness when it’s in front of them. He’s the epitome of professionalism, because he carries himself with an air of appreciation for everything that life has given him.
Sure, he’s performed everywhere and with everyone, but listening to him talk about how Bob Hope gave him his name gives the impression that he’s still the same hungry kid from Queens eager to give his best on a nightly basis.
In a world riddled with fakes, Tony Bennett earned his stripes the old-fashioned way by working his way up from the bottom and not settling for anything less than perfection. When you take into account that he also served on the front line during World War II and participated in the liberation of a Nazi concentration camp, his status as a living legend grows exponentially.
He wrapped up his set with “Who Cares,” “Smile,” and an encore of “When You’re Smiling,” which never ceases to get people up and clapping. Although he shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon, I consider myself fortunate to have caught him before the realities of aging come knocking.
I noticed some empty seats while scanning the room shortly after the show began, but, if word of mouth prevails, that shouldn’t be a problem next time around.