December 18, 2014
The situation in Syria is tense, the economy remains troubled, and new revelations about government spying programs continue to mount.
Have no fear: For 100 minutes at least, Michael Bublé is here.
The tuxedoed showman headlined the United Center on Saturday doing what few in his role are able to accomplish: Forget our troubles and sing, sing, sing.
The show was designed like a finely programmed jukebox at your local saloon. Like Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra? Bublé can do that. A bit of Elvis? The Beatles? Yes and yes. For you young folk, want a taste of Daft Punk and even some old-school Robin and Barry Gibb? Step aside, kids, Bublé is your man.
Indeed, Bublé rotated through several disparate periods of pop music, from the saloon crooners to Motown to current pop confectionary. Not all of it suited his voice, or at least he didn’t seem too invested in selling the songs as he was selling the show in broad strokes. Many of the songs served as props to rouse his crowd, from the Beatles anthem “All You Need Is Love” (cue a shower of red and white confetti hearts) to Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky,” a bit of techno-pop which allowed an easy segue way through the crowd to a second stage at the end of the stadium.
All of this suited this singer because his truest talent may be making a stadium crowd feel, not just that they are seated at a basement cabaret, but that he is directing the show to them. More than once, Bublé paused to interact with faces he could see, and paused to react even to those he could not. A newly engaged couple was brought onstage for a wedding song, but not before he turned to the crowd to quip, “I’ll also sing at your divorce.”
Speaking of quips, Bublé was the toastmaster general. Each member of his 13-piece band had their own tagline — “the next guy is so cool that when he goes to bed the sheets count him” — and he made a concerted effort to downplay his schmaltz with snark: “If I sing one more ballad, I will cut myself.” Before a brief session of classics like “That’s All” and “I’ve Got the World on a String,” Bublé asked the lovers in the crowd to snuggle tightly. As for any singles who happened to be there alone, he had a recommendation that Sinatra probably didn’t use: “It’s a wonderful time to get into a threesome.”
In the style of a good-natured late night television host, Bublé toggled between naughty and nice, not that there was much difference. For an audience that may feel alienated from current trends in pop music (twerking anyone?), he provided a comfortable refuge.
Did I mention he’s Canadian? As such, Bublé got to hockey early in the show, congratulating the city for its Stanley Cup win and introducing a living legend of the sport, retired Blackhawks great (and fellow Canadian) Dennis Hull, who was seated in the 12th row. Then came a brief rendition of “Chelsea Dagger,” which Bublé cut short immediately. “God, I hate that song,” he said.
Bublé sang 23 songs, some which suited his range and interest level, but not all. A Jackson 5 melody (“Who’s Loving You,” “I Want You Back”), performed with the vocal group Naturally 7, lacked energy while his vocals on the jazz standard “Cry Me a River” played second fiddle to an arrangement that mimicked the bombast of the James Bond theme. And yes, the song ended with a burst of fireworks.
Bublé appeared more comfortable when he slipped into the role of a classic saloon crooner, adding familiarity and warmth to songs like the Gibb brothers’ “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” and Leon Russell’s “A Song For You.”
On the latter, he tossed out his vocal monitors from his ears, stepped away from his microphone, and sang without amplification. The stadium of thousands drew silent as Bublé sang, quite figuratively, to the rafters. In a venue that has showcased its share of lip-synching charlatans, and others engaged in vocal trickery, this was something new. It’s called the real thing.