It’s sad to watch the demise of the crooner, with a whole generation of today’s music lovers missing out. In their heyday, crooners could pick and choose the best songs from any format and offer comfortable, nonthreatening interpretations for a wide generational swath to enjoy. Keeping the flame flickering is Engelbert Humperdinck, the oddly named crooner (real name: Thomas Arnold George Dorsey) with a slew of mid-’60s velvety pop hits that included “Release Me,” “A Man Without Love,” “The Last Waltz” and “After the Lovin’.”
All these songs were creampuff in their time, and still are, but they served to keep an alienated listenership in touch with the pop revolution of the time, dominated by the Beatles and the “Peace & Love” generation. Yet this sub-genre refuses to go down without a fight: The Cerritos Center for the Arts was sold out for two evenings. (The Saturday show was his last before Humperdinck heads to Russia for a monthlong tour.) After an overture of hits by his band, Humperdinck entered stage right with his signature baritone and tan, dressed in black shirt and pants, hair coiffed in throwback style (with a well-covered bald patch), as he opened with “Let the Music Play.”
His highly scripted 90-minute set bore the stamp of Las Vegas as Humperdinck touched on Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable,” tweaked “A Man Without Love” into a samba-like cut and then launched into a disco-fueled “Cuando Cuando.” Next, a bow to rap and its energy caused a winded Humperdinck to exclaim at the end of a wicked, beat-driven interlude, “I feel like Puff Daddy!”
And that’s where the fun is with crooners, whose sole focus is to entertain and offer audiences a chance to truly leave the world’s problems at home and just enjoy the evening. Serving as a gracious host who invites you into his environment with self-effacing humor and inoffensive song and dance, Humperdinck brought the past to life with rocking versions of Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Great Balls of Fire” and Elvis Presley’s interpretation of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” after which Humperdinck acknowledged Presley as both an influence and as a friend.
Still in fine voice at age 67, Humperdinck eased into a medley of his previously mentioned hits, with the closer “Release Me” drawing the women in the audience to the stage with roses in hand. If this is to be “The Last Waltz” of the crooner generation, then Humperdinck is a fine, yet underappreciated representative of a genre that deserves a better future.