A student of Sinatra with an inviting ease onstage, Canadian crooner Michael Buble possesses heartthrob potential and lungs capable of attacking any lyric put in front of him. For his U.S. debut, Buble would be hard pressed to find a better room than the tiered Feinstein’s at the Cinegrill, which offered a wonderfully accurate sound mix and sight lines. The room’s an intimate throwback to the Rat Pack era where, instead of comic foils, Buble filled the stage with a thunderous four-piece horn section that ensured the intact delivery of the arrangements, inspired by the likes of Billy May and Nelson Riddle, from his Warner Bros. debut.
Buble has cherry-picked the Great American Songbook for 20 of his 27 years. A vocal trick or a song from Old Blue Eyes are found every few minutes in Buble’s hourlong show; five of the dozen songs performed are Sinatra standards, and a sixth, “Mack the Knife,” was a prime example of Bobby Darin doing Frank.
With so much Sinatra in his concert program, though, it appears Buble is set up to appeal to the “American Idol” audience — a 20 million-strong crowd that embraces big voices, good looks and an easygoing relationship with an already popular song. Buble started with “You Make Me Feel So Young” and phrased every syllable Sinatra-style, a trick he would also employ on “Come Fly With Me.” He tells a nice story about learning lyrics and then singing them at the request of his grandfather. And clearly, youngster and granddad like Frank Sinatra’s style.
On other Frank-ophile tunes, he often chose to sing right on the beat, pulling the air out of “(I’ve Got You) Under My Skin” and deleting the sense of resignation that informs “Summer Wind.” “The Way You Look Tonight” is at least given a gentle samba feel to distinguish it from Sinatra’s version. Set of mostly uptempo numbers could well use more ballads such as that one.
It made for a night dominated by imitation rather than innovation. On album, producers David Foster and Humberto Gatica bring those Sinatraisms to more contempo material — George Michael’s sultry “Kissing a Fool,” the Bee Gees’ ballad “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart,” Queen’s rockabilly workout “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” — altering the textures of those works to fit Buble’s considerable vocal skills.
“That’s All,” the Alan Brand-Bob Haymes ballad that Darin and Nat Cole covered wonderfully, was the brightest glimpse of Buble’s abilities. He sang softly and with intense concentration, delivering the song — as a young Sinatra would — as a one-to-one missive to each member of the audience.
He lost that concentration on his encore “Mack the Knife,” completely forgetting the words but failing to come up with anything as captivating as Ella Fitzgerald did in front of an enthusiastic crowd in Berlin in 1960. Her impromptu rendition has come to be regarded as a classic, in many ways owing to the fact that Ella’s version of the Kurt Weill-Bertolt Brecht classic is a link in a lineage that extends back to the song’s “Three Penny Opera” origins. Buble could learn an immensely valuable lesson from the work habits of this venue’s owner, Michael Feinstein, by going back and seeing what appears on the composer’s printed page, rather than investing time in memorizing recordings.