Tony Bennett is not merely a beloved legend; he's also the best crooner of his generation. Among the singers who came up in the post-war, post-Sinatra era that included Dean Martin and Perry Como, Bennett survives -- and thrives.
Before an adoring throng Sunday night at Starlight Theatre in Kansas City, Mo., Bennett, along with pal k.d. lang, did service to what he referred to as "the great American songbook."
Looking fit and clearly in love with singing, the 75 year-old Bennett sounds amazingly strong. Like many great singers who have continued performing into the autumns of their lives, what is lost to aging pipes is more than made up for by their ever-great phrasing. This isn't to say that Bennett's voice is suffering. He's long had a slightly breathy rasp and it's part of his charm.
Performing with the Ralph Sharon Quartet, Bennett mined the standard repertoire. After an opening segment that included "The Best Is Yet To Come" and "Autumn Leaves," opening act k.d. lang joined Bennett for duets on "Moonglow" and "Keep the Faith."
After reminiscing about President Truman visiting him backstage at Starlight 50 years ago, Bennett sang the bitter "I Wanna Be Around" and his best-loved song, "San Francisco."
The singer then performed a grouping of songs made popular by Fred Astaire, including "Steppin' Out," "A Foggy Day In London Town," "You're All The World To Me," "Old Devil Moon" and "They Can't Take That Away From Me."
Bennett then ventured into the Duke Ellington catalog for "A Night In Tunisia," "Mood Indigo" and "It Don't Mean A Thing." Bennett closed the show with "Fly Me To The Moon," "Just A Little Street" and "'Swonderful."
If there's a fair criticism of Bennett as a vocalist, it's that he leans too heavily on the big, boffo finish. He ends every song with a grand, over-the-top climax no matter how blue or introspective the song. If he let the mood of the somber songs just float, they'd be much more effective. It's as though he's prisoner to some show-biz rule- of-thumb. It's an oddity from a singer so devoted to the great writers he honors.
-- Online entertainment manager Michael Newman can be reached at 838-7906.