If it were possible for me to write a review to equal the caliber of the performance at the Woodland’s Pavilion’s recent Tony Bennett/K.D. Lang Concert, I would probably soon find myself with a Pulitzer Prize for literature. Such was the extraordinary level of musical excellence from the two exceptional vocalists. I’m almost tempted to say, “There are no words to describe it,” but then I would be out of business!
Those who arrived on time for the show were rewarded when Bennett came immediately on stage with Ms. Lang for a superb duet of “I’ve Got the World on a String.” Their voices blended beautifully. Then it was all Lang for a time. On this pleasantly warm summer evening, she sang barefoot and wore a sleek and airy black suit that almost looked like an elegant pajama. If color was not part of her fashion wardrobe, it certainly characterized her brilliant singing. “Stampede of Love” showed her smooth vocal quality. In “Precious Love,” she softly sings her musical tale and powerfully reaches the high notes without difficulty. To use her own words, she has been “…studying in the Tony Bennett School of Entertaining.” I am here to tell you she has learned her lessons well! Her rendition of Cole Porter’s “So In Love” cuts through the night air as she gently walks about the stage. Her outstanding trio (keyboard, bass, drums) is in perfect control and pavilion audio engineers brought everything into the sharp focus that was lacking at last month’s Linda Eder concert.
Lang sang a fiery “Too Darn Hot” that was just right for a Houston summer night. Her soaring range was up to every task the song presented. With the Peggy Lee favorite, “Don’t Smoke in Bed,” Lang offers an almost operatic style and the sense of theater we associate with vocalists like Judy Garland. Another Peggy Lee standard, “Fever,” sent the temperature soaring in the coolest way. While movement and dance were clearly not her forte, Lang freely flopped about the stage, clowning now and then with her band. She concluded her set with a well received performance of her early 90’s hit, “Constant Cravings,” and a stunning and passionate interpretation of Roy Orbison’s “Cryin’” that was beyond compare. She curled into a near-fetal position as she unleashed the most thrilling version of the song imaginable. The audience went wild in an extended standing ovation.
Following the intermission, Bennett returned in a smooth, elegant, and apparently wrinkle-free blue suit. His “Watch What Happens” was a perfect opener. Next, “The Best Is Yet To Come” excited the audience with what seemed a prophecy of the music ahead. The number was done in a low-key style, but with perfect clarity and timing. One had the feeling we were at some private recording session. When Bennett followed with “Autumn Leaves,” it is clear he has never sung better. He seems to talk to us as he sings. The intimacy is wondrous.
On piano, another star of the evening was Bennett’s longtime friend and accompanist, Ralph Sharon. He offered a bright and brilliant “I Love A Piano.” Tony sang along, and then joined Lang in a duet of “Moon Glow” that had a glow of its own. When he sang the line “… We seem to float right through the air,” he hit the nail on the head. The audience was floating too. The pair continued with a perky “Keep the Faith Baby,” and then Tony did a jazzy “I’ve Got Rhythm,” with plenty of solo highlights from the Ralph Sharon Quartet, (Clayton Cameron – Drums, Greg Simon – Guitar, Paul Langosh – Bass).
Bennett did numbers from his “Here’s to the Ladies” album with the easy confidence of the most polished pro. He joked, “When I was a young man, I was the Brittany Spears of my day!” Then came a hip and slick “I Wanna Be Around,” with more great jazz from the band. It struck me that these musicians were not working. They were having another nightly party on the road and loving every minute of it.
With his signature song, “San Francisco,” Mr. Bennett captivates the room singing in a near whisper. Would that some rock bands could learn the art of subtlety. I heard a woman behind me exclaim, “Oh, he’s so suave I can’t stand it!” Dare I go on with tales of tributes to Fred Astaire (“A Foggy Day,” “Steppin’ Out,” “They Can’t Take that Away From Me) and Duke Ellington (“Caravan,” “Mood Indigo,” “It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing.”)? In the latter number, drummer Cameron steals the show. Then came a “Fly Me To The Moon” that was as pure as it was gentle. It was announced from the stage that Bennett was celebrating his 75th birthday, and many in the audience knew it was their turn to sing to the ageless Mr. Bennett.
Then Mr. Sharon’s “S’Wonderful” was just that; and a real jam session of “In a Mellow Tone,” defined the word mellow. Finally, Bennett closed by elegantly asking the musical question that was on everyone’s mind: “How Do You Keep the Music Playing?”