Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A charismatic crowd-pleaser

Bublé's voice clinches his massive appeal

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To hear the screams that meet Michael Bublé as he is dramatically revealed onstage -- in an impeccably tailored tux, of course -- is to be reminded, once again, just how loved he is.

Like pizza or cat videos on the Internet, the guy is a universal crowd-pleaser. He's funny. He's charismatic. He's charming. He's engaging. He's good looking.

Michael Bublé

June 26, 2014

MTS Centre

Rating: 4 stars

And then, of course, there's that voice.

It's a voice that has kept him on a massive, seven-leg world tour in support of his eighth studio album, 2013's To Be Loved, which netted him his fourth Grammy Award and went double-platinum in Canada. The To Be Loved Tour began with a 10-show run at the O2 Arena in London last June and wraps up where it started, the O2, this December. By then, he'll have serenaded fans at nearly 150 shows in 30 countries.

So it's not an understatement to say that Bublé has polished his live show to a sheen. Opening Thursday night's show at the MTS Centre with a slinky rendition of Fever followed by his 2009 single Haven't Met You Yet, he set the tone for a night that was all about slick production value and even slicker performances.

"Welcome to the MTS Centre," he said during what can only be described as his opening monologue, thanks to its easy comic deliver. "My name is Cher." He poked fun at his opening pyrotechnics (yes, Bublé's packing pyro these days). "I blew my load on that," he admitted. "The show is shit from here." He talked about his son, Noah, which elicited roars from the crowd. "Yes, it was really difficult for me. The most difficult 15 seconds of work I've ever done." Most of his banter is scripted, but it somehow never sounds like it. That's the magic of Michael Bublé.

That said, some of his bits were questionable -- such as later in the set when he told the audience to, "reach out in the dark and fondle whoever is closest to you." Not cool, Bub. Not cool. We expect classier.

Still, as promised, this tour is less about the bon mots and more about the music; the setlist boasts a rather bloated 24 songs. Backed by his 13-person band (aka Team Bublé, introduced later via Sportscenter-style graphics listing each musician's provenance and alma mater), he wrapped his luxe voice around classics such as Try A Little Tenderness, You Make Me Feel So Young and Moondance. A smouldering rendition of Feeling Good -- made famous by Nina Simone -- was an early set standout, showcasing the power and athleticism of his voice.

It was all about the romance mid-set. A local eight-piece string section joined him for a beautiful four-song suite that included That's All, Close Your Eyes, The Bee Gees' How Can You Mend a Broken Heart and original Home.

He then made his way to the B-stage, livening things up with a cover of Daft Punk's Get Lucky that had everyone on their feet.

"It's getting sleepy," he acknowledged. Michael Bublé is nothing if not a gracious host.

Openers Naturally 7 joined him on the B-stage for a mini-set that included a high-energy a capella version of The Jackson Five's I Want You Back. The confetti cannons were broken out for All You Need Is Love. It was like Valentine's Day exploded in there. A sizzling Burning Love led into It's a Beautiful Day, the soaring lead single from his latest and the main set closer.

The show could have ended on a satisfying note right there, but Bublé ditched the bowtie, donned a black sequined suit jacket and returned for three-song encore -- a powerhouse Cry Me a River, the salsa-flavoured Save the Last Dance for Me and A Song for You, which he finished away from the mic, a capella, proving just how big his voice is. In a night filled with glitzy showmanship and schtick, it was a nice, raw moment.

The velvet tongued men of Naturally 7 were a draw on their own, packing the house impressively early. And rightly so: the New York-based R&B a capella/beatbox septet is a testament to the incredible power and versatility of the human voice. Thanks to some clever mime, you'd swear there was a full band up there.

Their vocal play wasn't their set's only bit of sleight of hand. During the opening performance of Seals & Crofts' Summer Breeze, it looked as though they were hiding a drummer -- with a full kit -- behind a semi-sheer panel of black fabric. The reveal of "percussionist" Warren Thomas was met with a chorus of cheers.

Sure, Naturally 7's whole setup might give off a hint of novelty, but these powerhouse vocalists are too talented to be written off as mere gimmick. An R&B reading of Coldplay's Fix You and an exuberant, clap-along rendition of Stevie Wonder's Fingertips that bled into James Brown's I Feel Good were among the biggest crowd-pleasers. Pity they only played for just over 30 minutes -- but there's something to be said for the act that leaves you wanting more.

jen.zoratti@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 27, 2014 A10

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