One thing you can say about watching Tony Bennett perform live--without a Scotch, a steak and a cigar at your disposal, you fill utterly unprepared.
The classic crooner delivered nearly 25 songs in a tight set that blended classic pop standards with some jazzy ring-a-ding-ding swing, with Bennett leading his small group with emphatic hand motions, subtle nods and some unexpected dance moves here and there.
Bennett was a remarkably friendly host, repeatedly asking the audience for permission to play another popular hit, punctuating his announcements of what he planned to play with "if I may?" Giving the members of his band plenty of chances to shine via solos or his introductions, Bennett proved a beneficent frontman throughout the show.
He opened with one of his weaker vocal performances on "Watch What Happens," but it wasn't long before Bennett was belting out choruses and climactic last lines with style and power on the following "They All Laughed" and "Maybe This Time." Some early surprises, at least to me, included a winning cover of Hank Williams' "Cold Cold Heart" and an energetic "I Got Rhythm," as well as an excellent take of "Sing You Sinners." Hearing the 86-year-old Bennett sing "You're wicked and you're depraved, and you've all misbehaved" was a once in a lifetime moment.
Later, his version of "The Way You Look Tonight" started as a low-key slow-burn of a tune, until Bennett opened up and had the band chimed in for one of the most obvious highlights of the night. "Just in Time" and "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" followed before Bennett dedicated "The Good Life" to Lady Gaga, adding an announcement that he'd be recording an album of duets with the provocative pop star on Monday.
"It's such a beautiful place," Bennett observed toward show's end, looking around the stunning setting of Red Butte Garden's stage. "Out here in nature like this, it's just perfect."
It sure seemed just that as he pushed toward the show's finale with stellar takes on "That Old Black Magic" and his signature tune, "I Left My Heart in San Francisco." By the time Bennett finished to a standing ovation and performance of Charlie Chaplin's "Smile," he had once again shown that some sounds never go out of style. Bennett's friendly run through the American songbook proved a show definitely worth seeing, as long as the man keeps delivering like he did Thursday night.