Tony Bennett

Tony Bennett dedicated a song to us! Well, not exactly. But he did introduce one of the sensational standards he sang at the Santa Barbara Bowl last Sunday night with, “Let’s sing one for the MTV crowd.” And, since I think my friend and I were the only two people in the packed bowl whose social security has yet to kick in, I’m going to go with the assumption that he meant us.

With enough banter in between songs to qualify his quipping as a legitimate comedy act in and of itself, as well as a set list that seemed tailor-made to induce feelings of warm, fuzzy familiarity, Bennett made the overflowing amphitheater feel like an intimate lounge. Of course, his roots are grounded in that kind of performing.

Bennett, whose career has spanned over 50 years, has played with some of the most significant musicians of the twentieth century, including Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney, Count Basie and even Christina Aguilera, a fact that he made clear as he peppered his performance with anecdotes about everyone from Bing Crosby to Bob Hope. But, despite his range, Bennett has always managed to put his signature spin on every song he sings, and it was this talent for making traditional standards seem entirely personal that shone brightest on Sunday.

During the approximately two-hour performance, Bennett managed to showcase his entire career span, veering quickly but cohesively from jams that were mostly musical and purely jazz to golden oldies and standards from the proverbial Great American Songbook. And, he even dedicated a song – “The Good Life” to be exact – to Paris Hilton. In between Bennett’s singing, the band played some seriously swinging solos, including an incredible drum riff during “I Got Rhythm” and a series of soul-stirring string, piano and percussion bits during a jazz medley midway through the show. There was also a goose-bump-inducing version of the Hank Williams hit “Cold Cold Heart,” made famous more recently by Norah Jones.

Musical highlights of the performance also included Bennett’s breathtaking rendition of “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” the up-tempo undulations of “I’ve Got The World on a String” and the ahh-inducing earnestness with which he sang “The Way You Look Tonight.”

In fact, if there is one word that characterizes Bennett as a live performer, it is earnest. He is genuine to a fault, or at least seems so on stage. And, although everyone in that audience knew every word of every song he sang, the unadulterated emotion with which he delivered each lyric made every song seem organic, affecting and freshly evocative. It was hard not to swoon a little for the silver-haired fox that so obviously and effortlessly charmed even the backup musicians who presumably know him well. Of course, it was still a little surprising to hear an entire audience of giddy grandmas going gaga for Bennett, complete with the requisite whispers of “He’s so dreamy” and shouts of “I love you, Tony!”

Still, seeing couples at all stages of senior-hood sweetly embracing during “Fly Me To The Moon” and single gals of advanced age exploding into frenzied fandom at the sight of Bennett attempting a few awkwardly adorable dance moves during “For Once In My Life” was actually pretty awesome. Even as a cynical member of the MTV generation, I couldn’t help but be moved by Bennett’s performance – a performance that, at its heart, was a testament to the timeless and transcendent power of really great music.

-Mollie Vandor / Staff Writer


“They used to be extremely successful musicians, and look at them now,” joked Morrissey on Saturday night, as he introduced his band to the Santa Barbara Bowl audience. Morrissey, the former lead singer of the Smiths, parted ways with that band to become a successful solo artist in 1987 and has released eight studio albums since. But in between songs, Morrissey gave no evidence of his success, and he instead told the kind of cheesy and self-deprecating jokes that you would expect to hear from your grandpa. But coming from an articulate singer-songwriter who specializes in lyrics about loneliness, rejection and celibacy, the light attitude was refreshing.

It was also refreshing to hear Morrissey’s formal baritone singing, especially after the harsh opening act. Kristeen Young has a powerful singing voice, but she abused her talent by belting out most of her songs in soprano at full volume. Her keyboard playing, or more accurately, keyboard banging, was similarly flashy and annoying, and she and her drummer were more focused on making noise than on making music.

Unlike his opening act, Morrissey understands the art of subtlety. Though he hasn’t been on tour or released a new album since 2006, he and his band gave a graceful performance, careful to never sing out of tune or to stray too far from the recorded versions of songs. The stadium was about half full, and most people stayed in their seats the entire time, barely even managing a head bop. But Morrissey’s slow songs are difficult to dance to, and the audience mostly consisted of die-hard fans who were more intent on actually listening to the sad ballads. The singer even handed the microphone to the people in the mosh pit, allowing them to calmly discuss topics ranging from who should be president to how they were liking the show so far. The one moment that elicited screams occurred when Morrissey ripped off his shirt to reveal a white, pudgy midsection. Morrissey’s humble attitude and self-mockery added to the intimate feel of the show, but he maintained a safe distance from the audience during sets. His performance of “How Soon Is Now,” was the highlight of the evening, and it even inspired most attendees to finally stand up and move. The lights flashed from black to white every second, and the guitarist scratched the strings at the exact same rate. Meanwhile, Morrissey stood upright and motionless, with his back facing the audience.

His sets held little surprises, but he sounded just as elegant as he does on his albums, and his calm attitude perfectly suited his sound. In ninety minutes, he captured the highlights of his career, from Viva Hate’s “Everyday Is like Sunday” to Ringleader of the Tormentors’ poppy and political “Irish Blood, English Heart.” It was a relief to know that Morrissey, a staple of the nineties and one of the original “emo” singers, still sounds good, even after all those years of bitter loneliness.

-Amy Silverstein / Staff Writer