Tony Bennett Celebrates 87th Birthday at the Hollywood Bowl: Concert Review

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The master is going strong and remains in superbly fine form on a special night.

The master is going strong and remains in superbly fine form on a special night.

It's one day shy of Tony Bennett's 87th birthday. What do you get the guy who has everything?

He's performing on another perfect evening at the Hollywood Bowl, a tidy 51 years and change after his first show at the place. He's got his daughter touring and singing with him. He's spry enough to do a 360-degree spin (two of them!) and even a little soft-shoe (well, make that very little).

So, what do you get Bennett? What he's looking for can be found in the lyrics of the Gershwins' "Who Cares?" which he sang Friday night and called "the most contemporary song going even though it was written in 1932."

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"Why should I care?
Life is one long jubilee,
So long as I care for you
And you care for me!"

Both the artist and his audience care deeply, and the gift of sharing was exchanged often during this exquisite 75-minute set in which Bennett never wavered, never missed a beat or a syllable. Backed by a nifty four-piece, the Queens, N.Y., native and favorite son of San Francisco sold every one of the 24 standards to each member of the enraptured 18,000 in attendance, showing off a set of lungs that Michael Phelps wishes he'll have when he's in his 80s.

What kind of chamomile tea is this guy drinking?

On this night, as in so many others, Bennett remained expert in capturing the longing sadness of what could have been (as with "Once Upon a Time"), then doing a 360 (this one was verbal) to express confident, unbridled optimism ("The Best Is Yet to Come").

His daughter, new bride Antonia, opened the night with a 20-minute set, then came back to duet with dad on Sondheim's "Old Friends." The pride of working with family was clear. (From here, the tour will hit such stops as Newport, R.I., Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, Manila, Shanghai and Radio City Music Hall through mid-October.)

Bennett chatted about how he and Rosemary Clooney "were the first American Idols" and about performing with Pearl Bailey in Greenwich Village as the "only white kid in the whole show" when he was discovered by a comic who urged him to get rid of his stage name, Joe Bari.

"Bob Hope gave me my name Tony Bennett! Wow!" he said.

Back at the Bowl for the first time in eight years, he spoke of his label insisting he do a country song. "If we have to tie you to a tree, you're going to sing Hank Williams, like it or not," he recalled before slipping into "Cold, Cold Heart."

Bennett performed the first song he ever recorded, the poignant "Boulevard of Broken Dreams," and dedicated "The Good Life" to  "my wonderful friend, Lady Gaga." Before "Smile," he told of the letter Charlie Chaplin sent thanking him for making the song famous all over again.

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"How about that?" he said.

Bennett was spunky on "That Old Black Magic," which he performed during a 1962 session with Dave Brubeck in Washington in front of President John F. Kennedy. That remarkable set, recorded two months after Bennett's legendary Carnegie Hall concert and a month after his first Hollywood Bowl appearance, was released by RPM/Columbia/Legacy Recordings in May.

The end came with Antonia leading the audience in a round of "Happy Birthday" as a big white cake with strawberries on top came rolling out. Bennett seemed appreciative and humbled, truly happy to accept this gift.

Set List:

Watch What Happens
They All Laughed
Maybe This Time
Who Can I Turn To (Nobody Needs Me)
I Got Rhythm
Cold, Cold Heart
Sing, You Sinners
Old Friends
Steppin' Out With My Baby
My Foolish Heart
Just the Way You Look Tonight
Just in Time
Boulevard of Broken Dreams
The Good Life
Once Upon a Time
Shadow of Your Smile
One More for the Road
That Old Black Magic
For Once in My Life
The Best Is Yet to Come
San Francisco
Who Cares?
When You're Smiling

Twitter: @THRMusic