Tony Bennett sure knows how to make an exit.
On Friday night at the sold-out State Theatre in Minneapolis, he gently set his microphone on the grand piano and began to sing “Fly Me to the Moon” to the rafters like he was some kind of opera star, minus the pomposity, volume and vibrato.
With hand gestures, he illustrated the lyrics, pounding his chest when he sang “fill my heart with song” and spreading his arms wide as he belted, “Let me sing forever more.”
The 2,200 concertgoers rose as one. Bennett walked off, never facing the crowd but thrusting his left thumb in the air just before disappearing into the wings.
He returned for a curtain call. That meant two thumbs up as he smiled at the audience. Then he saluted and waltzed off, doing a little half turn with his left thumb raised again.
The crowd wanted more. So Bennett made another curtain call. This time, he folded his arms across his chest and bowed. And once again, like a victorious politician, he flashed two thumbs up.
Would anyone leave after hearing Bennett sing for 85 minutes and take two curtain calls? Of course not. He made a third curtain call, waving to the crowd, stretching his arm toward the band to acknowledge his four fine musicians. Two more thumbs and good night.
That’s the reaction that occurs when a beloved performer delivers. Quite a show, quite an exit. Five standing ovations, three curtain calls and 26 songs — if you count the one Bennett mistakenly sang twice.
A Tony Bennett concert is a trip through the Great American Songbook, standards written by George Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Duke Ellington, Irving Berlin and others. Some of the songs may be associated with other singers, but Bennett has managed to make them his own.
“One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)” is identified with Frank Sinatra, as Bennett explained Friday, but he took it out of the saloon and gave it a funky blues vibe, buoyed by Mike Renzi’s piano. “For Once in My Life,” the 1968 Stevie Wonder hit, was slowed to a ballad of quiet determination.
As a crooner, Bennett has a natural, conversational style that sometimes makes it difficult to tell when the between-song patter stops and the singing begins. But that effortlessness is part of his appeal. When he delivered “The Way You Look Tonight,” it was like an intimate conversation between two lovers. If Bennett weren’t so gentlemanly, you might call his version foreplay.
The singer blended class, charisma and eager-to-please friendliness. He may not have been as chatty as at other recent Twin Cities concerts. But he did reveal that he and Lady Gaga are making another album together because their 2014 collaboration was such a success. It landed him his 18th Grammy and an even bigger audience.
Some 67 years into his career, Bennett has various constituencies. Some members in Friday’s audience remember him from the 1950s and his first Grammy winner, 1963’s “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” He enjoyed a rebirth in the mid-1990s with his “MTV Unplugged” project featuring Elvis Costello and k.d. lang. And now a third generation has discovered Bennett’s greatness after duets with the likes of Amy Winehouse, Carrie Underwood and Gaga.
All three generations were represented Friday, and they agreed on the triumphant moments. Like a trumpet, Bennett belted out the last line of many songs, earning cheers, whistles and standing ovations after “When You’re Smiling,” “The Way You Look Tonight,” “San Francisco” and “How Do You Keep the Music Playing,” which concluded like a piece from “Phantom of the Opera.”
A combination of grace, humility and old-school cool, Bennett seemed sunnier than July. His countenance was so radiant, his smile so contagious that when he sang Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile” and “When You’re Smiling,” you couldn’t help but smile.
With that smile, that voice and that repertoire, Bennett has many fans who can’t wait for the 89-year-old crooner to make another entrance on a Twin Cities stage.