We should all look, sound and feel as good as Tony Bennett does if and when we reach age 89. But for an hour and a half on Monday night at Bass Concert Hall, the legendary crooner made everyone in the room feel good, regardless of their age.
Reeling off 25 songs with a four-piece jazz ensemble, Bennett needed no fancy stage design, no flashy lighting or video, no jacked-up wall of sound. Indeed, on his final number, the timeless “Fly Me to the Moon,” he didn’t need amplification at all. Singing off-mic, Bennett’s voice rang out with the immortal lyrics that define him: “Fill my heart with song, and let me sing forever more.”
It’s not that Bennett can’t do a buzzier show if he wants. His last stop in Austin was a duet performance with Lady Gaga, promoting the “Cheek to Cheek” album that the two recorded together in 2014. (Midway through Monday’s show, he slyly gave his sales pitch: “I’d like you to buy it, because she really needs the money.”)
But Bennett hardly needs any assistance beyond a few great players, which he has in spades with pianist Mike Renzi, guitarist Gray Sargent, bassist Marshall Wood and drummer Harold Jones. The musicians, who playfully spiked their solos on occasion with region-appropriate snippets from “Deep in the Heart of Texas” and “Yellow Rose of Texas,” took the stage at 7:30 p.m. sharp and warmed up the full house with a few instrumentals before Bennett strolled on and immediately launched into one pop standard after another.
The pattern was easy enough to spot early on: Light, swinging jazz numbers and quieter, more contemplative ballads gradually built to a grand crescendo that allowed Bennett’s voice to bring it all home with a dramatic flourish. And yet it was spectacular each time it happened, from the brilliant history-lesson wordplay of “They All Laughed” to the heartbreaking finale of “Who Can I Turn To” (“if you turn away”) to the soaring end of “that long, long road” on the Frank Sinatra staple “One for My Baby (and One More for the Road).”
Bennett briefly left the stage to one of several standing ovations after the uplifting “For Once in My Life.” But everyone knew he’d be back for his signature “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” so he didn’t keep the crowd waiting for more than 30 seconds. The surprise was that he played six more songs, including Charlie Chaplin’s lovely “Smile.” And although it’s possible he says this at every tour stop, Bennett seemed sincere when he declared, “You are my favorite city in the whole world, because all of you adore music.”
Set list:Watch What HappensThey All LaughedThis Is All I AskI Got RhythmIn My SolitudeSing You SinnersIt Amazes MeSteppin’ Out With My BabyBut BeautifulOur Love Is Here to StayThe Way You Look TonightWho Can I Turn to When Nobody Needs MeJust in TimeBoulevard of Broken DreamsThe Good LifeHow Do You Keep the Music PlayingShadow of Your SmileOne for My Baby (and One More for the Road)For Once in My Life
Encore:I’m Old FashionedI Left My Heart in San FranciscoWho CaresSmileWhen You’re SmilingFly Me to the Moon