WATCH: Tony Bennett live in Manila
Tony Bennett is already 87 years old, but he is still very actively recording and touring. In September 2011, Bennett released "Duets II" on his 85th birthday, where he sang duets with a diverse list of artists, ranging from Aretha Franklin to Lady Gaga. This album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, making him the oldest living artist to top that chart. It was interestingly his first and only No. 1 album. His duet with the late Amy Winehouse entitled "Body and Soul" also made Bennett the oldest living artist on the Billboard Hot 100, with the longest career span on that chart.
Last night, I brought my parents and my aunt with me to watch Mr. Bennett, who finally came to sing in Manila live for the first time in his long career. Even if we know his smooth cool voice may not be the same anymore, we did not want to miss this rare, and maybe the only, time for us to see and hear one of the best singers in the world sing live.
And apparently so did a lot of other Filipino fans, mostly senior citizens. Being a Tuesday evening, the Plenary Hall of the PICC filled up slowly. But surely, by showtime at 8:30 pm, when the house lights dimmed, the big hall was almost totally filled up.
On stage was a grand piano, an electric guitar, a double bass and drums. His band occupied their respective places as a voice-over announced the name of the front act, Antonia Bennett, the daughter of Tony Bennett. She sang about six songs, including her version of "Embraceable You," which was most warmly applauded. She had a unique character to her voice, not too brassy, not too light.
When Ms. Bennett bid farewell, we hear the voice of Frank Sinatra introduce "the greatest singer in the world," and in comes Mr. Tony Bennett himself, dapper in a white coat. When he started to sing his first song "Watch What Happens," the audience, feeling the excitement of hearing a legendary voice live, burst into loud applause. He would follow up that song with "They All Laughed" and "Maybe This Time." The voice was predictably rough already with age, but it was still so strong as he did not avoid belting out seemingly unreachable money notes.
With the next songs, "I Got Rhythm," "Because of Love" (his first No. 1 pop song in 1951) and "Sing You Sinners," he also introduced the talented members of his band. They were: pianist Lee Musiker, drummer Harold James, bassist Marshall Wood and guitarist Gray Sargent. Then Antonia came out again to sing a pleasant little duet with her dad, entitled "Old Friend." Maybe in recognition for his age, every little "daddy-dance" move he did was met with generous applause.
It was amazing how Sir Tony had so much vocal and physical stamina to sing song after song, with nary a sip of water in between. He sang "Steppin' Out With My Baby," then "But Beautiful." The next song was a stripped down version of "The Way You Look Tonight." He also sang his very first recording, the brooding song, "Boulevard of Broken Dreams."
Together with less familiar (for me) standards like "Just in Time," "The Good Life" and "Once Upon a Time," were familiar ones, like "Shadow of Your Smile" and the song that ended the main set, "One For My Baby (and One More for the Road)." After toasting the audience, he bid goodbye and left the stage.
Of course, the audience did not let him go just like that and definitely clamored for more. We knew there was more since the band did not leave the stage. Mr. Bennett came back onstage in a short while and sang "For Once in My Life," then "That Old Black Magic." He segued to the song he is most known for "I Left My Heart in San Francisco." After singing a fourth encore song, "Who Cares?", he tried to leave the stage again.
And again, the audience did not let him go just yet. He came back on to sing a beautiful version of "Smile." Finally, he showed off his vocal power by singing "Fly Me to the Moon" -- without a microphone! The audience took the cue and sang the rest of the song with him with perfect knowledge of the lyrics! That is definitely why foreign artists love to come perform here. We know how to sing our favorite songs by heart.
With that, a historic concert with one of the most respected musical stars has ended. The audience went home carrying with them the memory of not only Tony Bennett's iconic voice but also his warm heart and smile. This is pure nostalgia.
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."