At one point in Tony Bennett's show on Friday at the cool and intimate Mixing Room of the Mercedes-Benz Arena, Bennett stood and looked out from the stage, looking like a million dollars at 87 years old.
As he slyly rapped the Fred Astaire classic, “One for My Baby (and One More for the Road),” he shuffled a few light steps, with the skill of someone who has done them for more than 60 years. Just then, a young woman in a black dress scuttled past the floor between the front-row audience and the stage. Bennett peered down, let out a golden smile and said to her, “You don't know what you're missing!”
For the audience at large, little reminder was needed. There was a noticeable buzz in the crowd throughout the night, with many yelling hoots and words of encouragement to the American singer throughout the night.
Bennett responded with virtuosic performance, one marked by the combined tight craft and endless ease he displayed in the mentioned audience incident.
Throughout the evening, in which Bennett sang 23 songs, he was irked by a spotlight that often circled his face but never quite found it. Whether this was the fault of Arena or Bennett's staff is unknown. And while it certainly didn't ruin the show, it was noticeable. While singing Charlie Chaplin-penned “Smile,” and after another gaff by the lighting team, Bennett didn't get angry but looked at his audience, grinned, and said “the light man keeps falling asleep.” It got a hearty laugh.
That laugh was in contrast to this reporter's outlook on the show. This past Friday had two other jazz events: saxophonist Kenny G and the massive JZ Jazz Festival. Many feared that Bennett's second show might not pull in a big crowd, especially with the arrival of the Mid-Autumn Festival and the show’s steep ticket prices.
The cheapest tickets ran for 780 yuan (US$127).
Outside the show, scalpers were indeed selling tickets for less than face value. However, by the time Bennett's opener, his very own daughter Antonia, finished, just about every seat was filled.
The venue is one of the best in Shanghai, with the versatility to host someone like Bennett, or rock stars like Slash. Here, the seats were put down on the floor, and they never felt like a temporary addition.
The acoustics of the venue got their own features as well, with no small help from Bennett. While singing the American songbook classic “Fly Me to the Moon,” he first lowered his microphone away from his mouth, then put it down on the nearby piano. With the audience humming along, Bennett amplified the old fashion way. It was a beautiful touch that removed any remaining barrier between the performer and the audience.
Close but controlled, well-crafted but never cold, the immortal star Tony Bennett shined through.