Absence, they say, makes the heart grow fonder. But a nearly six-year hiatus from touring and recording made pop crooner Michael Bublé hammier and sillier, more emotional and more musical — and better than ever.
After taking a break while the oldest of his three young kids underwent treatment for cancer, Bublé, 43, returned to Xcel Energy Center on Monday full of gratitude, full of music and full of glib, self-deprecating B.S. The Canadian crooner told the sellout crowd of nearly 14,000 that Minnesota was his favorite place to visit. He challenged everyone to put his statement on YouTube to prove he was serious.
Then, like a marketer for Minnesota tourism, he gave shout-outs to such important Minnesota things as Prince, Bob Dylan, Jesse Ventura, the inventor of the supercomputer and the biggest ball of twine, all things anyone could read on Wikipedia. But the sentiment seemed sincere.
His singing certainly was. With his wife and three kids in the arena (and his conductor’s parents), Bublé seemed totally invested in the words of all those romantic classics he sings — and even his handful of original pop tunes, including two from last year’s comeback album, simply entitled “Love.”
On the standards, his phrasing was Sinatra-inspired impeccable, his tone assured and his emotion palpable. You believed him when he hit the stage with “Feeling Good,” set to a bombastic James Bond-like arrangement, and then when he eased into a big-band treatment of “Haven’t Met You Yet,” his 2009 pop hit.
With 34 musicians and three singers supporting him, Bublé delivered one splendid arrangement after another — a dramatic orchestral “My Funny Valentine,” a swingin’ “I Only Have Eyes for You” and a snazzy, snap-along “Such a Night,” which suggested Elvis Presley doing Bobby Darin.
Never mind that “Sway” sounded more like Ricky Martin than Dean Martin, who made the song famous. Or that Bublé’s recent single, “Love You Anymore,” cowritten by pop star Charlie Puth, sounded forgettable and unsophisticated in the context of all this wonderful music from the Great American Songbook.
By comparison, Bublé’s own new composition, “Forever Now,” about meeting your newborn baby, was uncloyingly loving, just his voice and Alan Chang’s piano, as the singer, his eyes misting over, rhapsodized in front of his kids.
That’s what you expect out of a romantic crooner. But it’s Bublé’s rib-tickling humor and smart staging that elevated this two-hour concert to as entertaining a pop show as you’ll find in a hockey arena in 2019. His slip-and-slide dancing, curved and circular video screens, tiered orchestra, satellite stage at the end of the runway and auxiliary video screens in the middle of the arena enhanced the production without screaming “look at how cool this is.”
Bublé’s comedic talents could have landed him a slot in Sinatra’s legendary Rat Pack. At the X, he was a class clown with a skinny tie and sharp fitted suit, a George Michael-like beard and not a hair out of place. Whether he did spot-on impressions of Ed Sheeran, Simon Cowell, Blake Shelton and a spontaneous Josh Groban or ad-libbed with audience member-turned-vocal soloist Scott Stoneking, Bublé was quick, witty and downright funny. Sure he’s eager to please, but he was having as much fun as the fans. And you can’t fake that.
With patter that may sound pat, Bublé sounded deeply genuine, whether he was saluting his plumber grandfather who turned him onto to vocal jazz and got him his first gigs (and died just before Christmas, at age 93) or thanking the audience at night’s end with his “deep sense of gratitude” for their prayers, wishes and support during his family’s trying times.
Absence certainly made Bublé grow stronger.