Tony Bennett stepped out onto the stage and lifted his microphone to his lips, and for a flicker, the heart paused, waiting.
Waiting for the moment where a legend came to life? Yes, that. But also waiting for the moment that showed that even the bodies of legends feel the weight of being 86 years old.
Incredibly, improbably, that latter moment never came. Instead, only a few minutes into the Centennial Concert Hall performance on Wednesday night, there was this moment instead: Bennett threw back his head and laid into the climax of Maybe This Time, and his rich vibrato bounced off the balconies and shivered up through the floor.
The crowd rippled in their seats. "Ooh," they whispered, and "ahhh," and a smile played across Bennett's face as he tipped his head in thanks. It was a little surreal: There are 30-year-old singers that can't sing like that, at least not with that voice, all velvety and leathery and mahogany-warm.
Indeed, so strong is his voice even now that for the concert's last hurrah, Bennett set the microphone down. Without any amplification, he crooned out the gorgeous melody of Fly Me To The Moon, and every note rang pristine through the room. "Let me sing for ever more," he sang, and judging by the crowd's ecstatic ovation, you knew they wished he would.
But we've got ahead of ourselves.
Let's go back to the beginning, when the show kicked off just after 7:30 with an elegant set of jazz standards, sung by Bennett's youngest daughter, Antonia. She glowed as she talked about having the chance to tour with her dad; and no sooner did she stride off the stage than Bennett, dressed in a gleaming white jacket, floated on.
For the 75 minutes that Bennett and his four-piece bend held court, the New Yorker let his humour flow as freely as his songs. "Rosemary Clooney and I were the first American Idols," Bennett said with a wink, though he wasn't entirely joking.
From there, the concert flowed, gliding from one classic to the next. There was I Got Rhythm, each line infused with the perfect amount of punch and pow.
There was The Way You Look Tonight, delicately told through guitarist Gray Sargent's fluid chord-melodies, as Bennett gently murmured along.
We could keep reaming off other stands, hits and faves; you'd know them all, of course. He snapped, he swung, he left his heart in San Francisco. "I guess you can tell I just sing old songs," Bennett said, late in the show. "It's because I like 'em better than new ones." With that, he launched into the Ella Fitzgerald classic I'm Old-Fashioned, and the twinkle in his eye sparkled from across the hall.
It would return, again and again. Bennett, who is releasing a new duet album this fall, has long had a political streak. But it was all in good fun late in the set, as he noted his next tune was the perfect fit for what's going on in the world today. "Let it rain and thunder, let a million firms go under," he crooned, the opening line to a rollicking version of Who Cares? as Lee Musiker's piano swelled up under him.
"I am not concerned with stocks and bonds I've been burned with... I love you, and you love me, and that is how it'll always be."
As the audience sprang to its feet for one of many standing ovations, and pushed to the stage to pass up yet another bouquet, never did those lyrics ring more true.
Centennial Concert Hall
Aug. 22, 2012
four 1/2 out of five