LIVE: Johnny Mathis @ the Palace Theatre, 4/4/13

Review by Greg Haymes

As a kid – long before I had a record player of my own, or for that matter any records to play on it – I used to hunker down in front of the big wooden family stereo console in the living room and endlessly rummage through my parents’ record collection, spinning my favorites for hours at a time.

There was a treasure trove of music at my fingertips – albums like Stan Kenton’s West Side Story (my dad’s), Harry Belafonte’s Belafonte at Carnegie Hall (my mom’s), Sarah Vaughan’s Dreamy (my dad’s) and Johnny Mathis’ Johnny’s Greatest Hits (my mom’s).

So as I settled into my seat at Albany’s Palace Theatre earlier this month, I couldn’t help but wish that my mom was there with me. Sadly, it was just more than a year ago that she had passed away, but I could almost hear her quietly sighing and swooning during the show… along with most everyone else in the theater.

Stan Kenton’s gone, and so is Sarah Vaughan. Belafonte is still a monumental presence, but he long ago retired from the concert stage.

But lo and behold, Mr. Johnny Mathis is not only still at it, but he’s also still got it. Oh sure, there was plenty of nostalgia in the air at the Palace, but Mathis proved that his old-school balladeer chops have remained almost impossibly intact even at the age of 77.

He simply stood there in the spotlight, one hand casually in the pocket of his tailored charcoal grey suit. He raised the microphone to his lips and out pored his opening song, “When I Fall in Love.” Let the swooning begin…

With a lush, full-bodied 29-piece orchestra behind him, the vintage hits – most of them a half century old now – kept coming all night long. And Mathis nailed ’em all. The string section stepped up for “My Secret Love” and the towering “Misty” – which garnered a well-deserved mid-show standing ovation. The five-piece traveling core-band deftly handled “Wonferful, Wonderful.” For nuggets like “Wild Is the Wind” and “A Certain Smile,” the accompaniment of pianist John Scott Lavendar was all that required. And nylon-string guitarist Gil Reigers was featured such gems as “The 12th of Never” and “My Foolish Heart.”

My only real problem with the show was the occasional use of recorded backing vocals on such songs as “Brazil” and “It’s All in the Game.” If you’ve got a 29-piece orchestra behind you, it just seems wrong-headed to skimp on paying a couple of back-up vocalists, too.

When I Fall in Love
Movie medley: Two for the Road> Lovers in New York> Days of Wine and Roses> Moon River
It’s All in the Game
Medley: It’s Not for Me to Say> Chances Are> Gina
I’m On the Outside looking In
Wild Is the Wind
Shenandoah> Yesterday
Count Your Blessings
Wonderful, Wonderful
Let Go
To the Ends of the Earth
Medley: Pure Imagination> Baubles, Bangles, Bright Shiny Beads> Stranger in Paradise> My Secret Love
A Certain Smile
Why Did I Choose You?
You Mmake Me Feel Brand New (The Stylistics)
My Foolish Heart
99 Miles From LA
The 12th of Never
You’ll Never Know

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