Tony Bennett | 06.07.17

Bennett is an American classic, a reminder that art and craftsmanship are never mutually exclusive.

Tony Bennett, 1960, NYC. Morrison Hotel Gallery

The Fox Theater, St. Louis

It seems like the Fox Theater was made for performances like the one Tony Bennett gave June 7 in St. Louis. Like the Fabulous Fox, Bennett is an American classic, a reminder that art and craftsmanship are never mutually exclusive, and it’s the attention to detail that elevates it all.

Following a brief but terrific opening set from his daughter Antonia Bennett, a recording of Frank Sinatra served as an intro for the headliner, making the hard-to-argue proclamation that Bennett is “the greatest singer in the world.” Walking onstage, still looking fit and trim in a spiffy black tux, Bennett kicked off a dynamic set with “Watch What Happens” from 1965’s wonderful If I Ruled the World: Songs for the Jet Set. Backed by his crack four piece band, Bennett delivered songs like “They All Laughed” and “This Is All I Ask” with such a buoyant sense of purpose, it seemed as if they were the being explored for the first time.

It was particularly delightful to witness how seemingly amazed Bennett was by his band. Generous with the spotlight, he would occasionally look to the audience during one of their solos, with an expression of “Can you believe how good this guy is?”

The age range of the audience proved the artist has continued to pick up new fans throughout his long and rarified career. Whether it was the old-schoolers, adults who were turned on to him by his Grammy-winning, platinum MTV Unplugged release, or 2014’s Cheek to Cheek duets album with Lady Gaga, Bennett could do no wrong, no matter what era he was mining. Even though his voice can’t hit the high notes of a still-marvelous “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” it hardly matters. Most of his range is still intact, and there’s no mistaking the magic that happens when he croons “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.”

Among the highlights of the show were a spirited and upbeat “I Got Rhythm,” a beautiful reading of Hank Williams’ “Cold Cold Heart,” Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile,” and “For Once in My Life,” for which he received one of many well-deserved standing ovations. The calypso-flavored “Shadow of Your Smile” featured an extraordinary performance by guitarist Gray Sargent, as well as impressive footwork from the 90-year-old Bennett, who clearly has no intention of slowing down anytime soon.

Before returning for an encore, Bennett treated the audience to something very special, which I had never seen done at The Fox. Leaving his microphone behind, Bennett walked to the edge of the stage and sang “Fly Me to the Moon” unamplified. It was an exquisitely intimate moment, an equally impressive feat in such a large venue, and we were all very lucky indeed to be witnessing an icon still in top form. | Jim Ousley

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