Johnny Mathis | 09.19.15

live Johnny-mathisThe consistent quality of his performances has rewarded him with a timeless and almost critic-proof invulnerability.

The Fox Theatre, St. Louis

When Johnny Mathis returned to the Fox Theatre last Saturday, there was no doubt in the minds of the predominantly boomer and pre-boomer set that this was an absolutely perfect marriage of entertainer and venue. Much like the Fox, Mathis has been entertaining audiences for decades, and the consistent quality of his performances has rewarded him with a timeless and almost critic-proof invulnerability.

With no trace of fanfare, Mathis strolled onto the stage in an open-collared suit, grabbed a mic, and proceeded to sing his heart out. Physically, the 79-year-old legend was in great shape, walking the length of the stage and grooving to his band, which happened to include a full complement of horns, strings, drums, and bass, all under the direction of Mathis’s longtime musical director Scott Lavender. The singer appears to have a genuinely good-natured and fun relationship with his band, fist-bumping with Lavender, sharing smiles with the horn and string players, and even enlisting bassist Rick Shaw to take a video of the crowd sending get-well wishes to absent guitarist Gil Reigers, who was under the weather.

How about that voice? Since Mathis cut his schedule back to only performing 50 to 60 shows a year, he’s been able to successfully maintain his natural, finely tuned instrument. In fact, his voice was almost identical to the way it sounds on all of his classic Columbia recordings, slipping easily in and out of his trademark tenor, gracefully hitting high notes, and mining the lows when the melody called for it. His first number-one hit, “Chances Are,” was sung early in the set, I suspect because he wanted to prevent his audience from spending the entire night in anticipation, as opposed to giving the other songs the attention they deserved. If this was indeed the case, he shouldn’t have worried. The audience reacted enthusiastically, from the first notes introducing the songs, to each triumphant climax.

Though his late–’50s and ’60s songs like “Wonderful, Wonderful,” “It’s Not for Me to Say,” “Gina,” and “A Certain Smile” were well represented, Mathis also dedicated a portion of his show to his friend, the late Henry Mancini, with a medley of songs from the great composer. After performing “Two for the Road,” “The Greatest Gift,” “The Days of Wine and Roses,” and a moving rendition of “Moon River,” the singer lifted his eyes skyward, smiled, and said. “Thanks, Henry.” It was a touching moment from a classy singer, one who has already had a career that practically came to embody the term “class.”

Comedian Brad Upton, who by his own admission closely resembled Barry Goldwater, did a set in the middle of the show before intermission, and entertained the 50s-plus crowd with his witty observations on marriage, age, and everyone’s nose-down obsession with smart phones. | Jim Ousley

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