Michael Buble in Concert
Auditorium Theatre, Chicago
Mezzanine (first balcony), 1
st row, center, aisle
reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
July 25, 2007

First row of the balcony, with my November 2006 Streisand concert mates at the stunningly refurbished and historic Auditorium Theatre in Chicago.  Prepared to see, as sister-in-law mentioned in passing as I got ready to leave her West Michigan home for my short road trip back to Chicago — “Streisand light”.  She pegged it.  Actually, that description disses Streisand.  Am I being harsh?  Is this young man something more that is captured in recordings and is not present for me on stage?  Do you already have to be captured by the Buble “magic” to be hooting and hollering and to put up with his running self-referential commentary?  Perhaps.  My perusal of web sites and coverage of his stuff is that he is 31.  I think he hasn’t quite embraced his age.  Perhaps middle age will be difficult for him as it is for some ‘savants’ .. he is no longer a cute young thing daring to do standards.  He is at the lower edge of middle age.  He is not a child star.  And what he identifies as “standards”?  well .. this makes for ‘easy listening’ sometimes.  The final encore highlighted the strengths and weaknesses of his overall package.  I’ll get there.

The Auditorium .. stunning.  Can’t wait to get back there.  First row of balcony .   Plenty close for this event.  Great view of the raked stage when the curtain opened for mr. Buble’s part of the evening performance takes place .. and of the entire sweep of the broad theatre and the loges (the ‘dress circle) levels of boxes.  Julie identified them right off “What are those?” she asked. “I want to sit there next time.”  She added wanting to see Buble from the front row to her wish list as the evening went on. I was silent.

Our seats offered a great view of the raked stage for Buble’s fabulous band and a tremendous warm up act.  Later research identified the amazing opening act as woman singer songwriter Jann Arden who played with two men in one, in front of the curtain.  Simple.  Hysterically deadpan funny.  And stunningly simple voice and arrangements, standing in her power, as it were. And the killer detail —  she covers Janis Ian’s “At Seventeen”, my teenaged geeky anthem.

Biggest response to Buble in person —  he is channeling more Tom Jones than Tony Bennett.  He strikes me more as from the smarmy latter years Elvis than as a musician with a sense of spare bluesy rhythms.  The audience only got to its feet when he asked them to and throughout the responses didn’t feel genuine.  And the whole show and all his patter felt canned.  And he was tired.  Ew moments: His intro to “Me and Mrs. Jones” providing a story line of a younger man having a fling with a married neighbor lady (ah, Mrs. Robinson) coupled with the overweight suburban mothers in his ‘mosh pit’ area, and the fact that he popped down from the stage into the audience to take pictures and hugs (very Vegas) after condescendingly (and erroneously) describing the concept of the fourth wall he was going to kick down — well, ick.  And Mr. Buble .. the 4th wall doesn’t apply in live performances such as yours, only to plays where a separate imaginary world is created.  Negative points for the whole thing.

Well, honey, frankly you’re not all that to me.  Twas a trip to witness,  but no, have not become an acolyte.  Not when you  know true greatness in other performers.  No. It also was an odd pastiche of TRUE STANDARDS and odd pop tunes of more recent vintage.  His web site and write ups give him credit for having impeccable musical taste .. I say “not so much”.

His opening act, a real star .. like finding THE STORY at a Nancy Griffin (was that it?) concert at the Beehive in Oakland (Pittsburgh neighborhood) in the early 1990s.  JANN ARDEN.  Jonatha Brooke channeled in her voice.

Post opening act, anticipating Buble, the murmur in the audience is constant and high energy.  People are at least dressed business casual.  Some of us cleaned up a bit more than that.  And great jazz trumpet combo recorded playing in the interval a number of tunes including “surrey with the fringe on top”, “the most beautiful girl in the world”, and others.  The set once the curtain rises: a very modernistic NOIR-ish presentation.  Raked stage for the musicians.

The following contains what I captured of the set list, plus comments.

  • I’m Your Man
  • Besame Mucho … or some other Brazilian tune

And blabber talk here about new admiration for the fans.

  • “Me and Mrs. Jones” .. after creating a shout out to the men .. having them roar.  Then saying something vaguely insulting to basically everyone in the room suggesting that if men were there they were forced to come by their girlfriends or wives.  He does have fabulous musicians.
  • “Fever”.  It would be classy if he’d mentioned for the younger fans the originators of these tunes.  These standards (when they are standards anyway).  No mention of Peggy Lee here.  He has the voice .. the arrangements.  Not yet the seasoning to pull this number off.

Before the 5th number he does the ‘4th wall’ bullshit.  This all just comes across to this gal as too much ‘tude for which I’ve not yet seen any justification.  Takes pictures with his fans, lots of hugs down front, laughs when he hugs a large women who gropes his butt; slightly uncomfortable laughs when a young man hugs him.

  • Call Me Irresponsible.

Too many antics.  Not one reference to his precursor artists at this point.  AT THIS POINT .. c’mon.  he does begin to thank his band after this number.  But makes a joke that falls really flat to me (and to much of the audience): “Jazz is like a bunch of blues musicians who fell down the stairs” .. then he acknowledges that Chicago is a stupid place to make such a joke about jazz.  Um, yeah.  Introduces stage left / our right: trumpets (3), trombones (2), saxes (3) [does not yet introduce the balance of his band .. stage right/our left … drums, bass, guitars, piano]

The band without Michael really cooks.  Michael makes a joke about being miffed that they got a bigger hand than he had up to this point .. but actually they did.  And especially from me.  And perhaps it wasn’t such a joke coming from Mr.  Buble.  We likes our jazz here in Chicago and Mr.  Buble is a lounge singer.

  • Try A Little Tenderness short version.  Trombone player sings and Michael mimes at playing the trombone (in reality, another trombonist in the band in the dark is playing).  Ha ha.  Waste of time.  Not funny.
  • I Got The World On A String.  Big horn arrangements, lovely.  After this piece Buble introduces the rest of this band.
  • You’re Always On My Mind.  This is a standard?
  • Try A Little Tenderness.  He schmaltzes it up to the hilt.  Never reaches the bluesy driving last chapter … on his own.  Leaves me wanting; feeling like I’ve just heard a lullaby rather than a driving blues anthem.
  • For Once In My Life.  Swoopy and schmaltzy.  Dancing around the melody rather than driving it home.  So far, despite his fabulous band and occasional rock band light effects, I’m more impressed by the first group .. the opening act.
  • You Know How I Feel.  I’m still feeling that any positive vibes I’m getting here are due to the band and not his supposed ‘charm’.  He reaches out to the first rows.  [I think: NO ONE DOES GARLAND LIKE GARLAND .. don’t go for the greeting over the footlights.].  No room electricity.  In this song it is stunning how much I resent his voice coming in at points interrupting the amazing riffs by the band.

Finally he talks a little bit about his idols (but not tied to specific songs .. he doesn’t treat this as cabaret where the singers give you background about each song .. but as … a Vegas Show).

  • Home.  Cheesy water images are projected upstage as a backdrop.  Clearly his fans know this tune.  His segue is “we have been to Chicago so much it feels like home” .. and the crowd roars.
  • “You can’t see when I look at you” .. something like that.  A kinda rocky song.  And he says to the crowd “I don’t want to be the only one dancing .. get up” .. and they friggin DO.  People come at this point from the back of the auditorium and fill the aisles right up front.  I will not say that the whole place was rocking .. but he had his acolytes right down front.  [seated in the front row of the first balcony, above the loges / dress circle, we have full few of the hefty suburban rear ends, many in jeans]
  • An Elvis tune . “I’m a Man” maybe.

The front section plus the back room additions are still standing and clapping.  The room doesn’t hoot until he calls for it.

  • YMCA (omigod) .. complete with arm movements by Buble and his band members.  Egad.  It’s like my brother and his friends (and my classmates at our 20th high school reunion) were doing this.  Which we did.  Better than these guys do it now.  Why?
  • Save the Las Dance for me”.  Standard?  The crowd has been worked up now (down below)
  • How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You) .. yeesh.
  • That’s Life.  Complete with local Chicago Pentecostal chorus.  Their voices plus the driving excellent band makes this tune work .. not Buble’s inherent (lack of a) sense of blues or jazz …this tune points out all of his strengths and weaknesses.  And I wonder if his fans are at all aware.  The band and the gospel choir make the dramatic climax of this tune possible, giving it the drive that it requires .. and that ‘try a little tenderness’ is supposed to have and does not in this concert form.
  • encore: Are You Ready for a Little Thing Called Love.
  • encore. My Kind of Town (Chicago Is) .. he made the audience do it .. not an impressive version.
  • encore. I’m Singing This Song For You.

Before he does the last tune, Buble does a shout out to his blue collar roots and to the sacrifices that his fans have made — which is touching I suppose.  But after acting like a spoiled brat and skating through the performance (what Garland called “cheating the audience”) AND referring to the cool new house he has .. AND being petulant that his band got a bigger hand than he did AND (I’ll stop).  This was a little bit much, much too late.

© Martha Wade Steketee (July 26, 2007)

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