Michael Bublé is having a blast in St. Paul performing songs older than him
He’s the quintessential modern-day Rat Pack-ian entertainer – a smooth singer, debonair showman, and witty comedian who delivers it all with a quick wink and a megawatt smile. Michael Bublé is also a prolific musical grave robber.
On Wednesday at the Xcel Energy Center, Bublé performed songs associated with Nat King Cole, Charlie Chaplin, Julie London, Nina Simone, Sam Cooke, the Drifters, Dean Martin, Marvin Gaye, Peggy Lee, Elvis Presley and – surprise – Barry White. Barry Gibb, one of the three Bee Gees, is still alive, so “To Love Somebody” broke the chain of crypt theft.
Each of those tracks was older than the 46-year-old Bublé.
An adept song stylist, he usually gave these selections his own spin, often with an orchestral sweep and even a gospel choir. That’s not to say Bublé owned “How Sweet It Is” or “Cry Me a River,” but he nailed them with made-for-the-arena big band panache to the delight of 10,000 fans.
And he knows how to sell a song – and himself. Bublé grabbed his tie knot like Rodney Dangerfield, slipped and slipped like James Brown, and punched the air like a ghost boxer. But, he oversold an Elvis medley, impersonating the king on “Fever” and “One Night with You” and camping it out on snippets of “All Shook Up” and “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” Without missing a beat, Bublé then burst into “You’re the First, the Last, My Everything,” a disco-era low point (the only redeeming factor was Barry White’s deep bass vocals) and a low point of Wednesday’s concert despite an avalanche of golden confetti.
These particular numbers underscored one of the production missteps in the 115-minute program – the use of separate sound systems when Bublé was on the main stage with 34 musicians and two backup singers and when he performed on a satellite stage in the middle of the arena. As he walked down the track connecting the stages, the sound systems were disconcertingly switching to different speakers.
But it was hard to argue with Bublé’s sincere yet silly personality. Again, it was a savory mix of ham and cheese, covered in lots of romantic dressing, on slices of brown and handsome. He hugged and cheered fans, autographed handmade signs, took selfies with fans’ cellphones and donned a Minnesota Wild jersey for the encore, admitting he’s a fan of his hometown Vancouver Canucks. native.
The dashing Bublé ended the gig with James Bond vibes, opening with the dramatic “Feeling Good,” a far cry from the jazzy version made famous by Nina Simone, and delivering the penultimate “Cry Me a River,” a reading explosive that was like night and day compared to Julie London’s sensual interpretation.
Speaking of reimagining, Bublé’s pre-encore finale of Sam Cooke’s classic “Bring It on Home to Me” started out as an anthem before morphing into a true celebration of the gospel of revival of the tent with a mini-choir.
To confirm he’s not just a performer, Bublé delivered seven original tracks he co-wrote, including “Higher,” the dark, tango title track from his 2022 album, and the hit perky 2009’s “Haven’t Met You Yet.”
But the highlight was a tender voice and piano treatment of Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile” with Bublé seated next to Roy Dunlap’s grand piano. North America’s biggest lounge lizard doesn’t necessarily need all the shtick and big band arrangements. Sometimes all it takes is a good song, that creamy voice and a smile.