George Benson’s nearly sold-out show harked back to the golden days of the 1970s and ’80s when soul ruled the airwaves. Armed with a body of work that sounds as vibrant today as when it was recorded, Benson now instinctively phrases well within his range, knowing his limitations as well as he knows his audience — which came solely for the hits.
Benson kept a fairly faithful ear to the tunes throughout his 90-minute set, save for a touch of vocal grit for inflection’s sake. He opened with “Feel Like Making Love,” then slid effortlessly into “Septembro,” “Love Times Love,” “Turn Your Love Around,” “Everything Must Change,” “Love Ballad” and, of course, the finale “On Broadway,” which has evolved into Benson’s personal biography. New material from his “Irreplaceable” album (Verve) was limited to the instrumental “Arizona Sunrise.”
Opener Will Downing has made a career of reinterpreting ’70s and ’80s R&B/soul standards, as witnessed by warm takes on SOS Band’s “Wishing on a Star,” the Stylistics’ “Stop, Look, Listen” and Michael Jackson’s overlooked gem “I Can’t Help It.” Downing displayed a vocal range that leaped between a cavernous basso profundo to an impossibly high falsetto. During a cameo appearance by saxophonist Everette Harp, Downing traded riffs and then endeared himself to the audience by encouraging its participation on “Don’t You Talk to Me Like That,” which included singing and lovemaking instructions that Downing personally guaranteed.