Michael Buble is that rare male pop singer who got to play the big venues by singing other pop singers’ hits. Buble, covers and all, left an adoring crowd at an almost-packed Verizon Center wholly entertained on Sunday night.
The 38-year-old Canadian crooner, dressed up in a tux, very occasionally reminded fans that he’s capable of crafting his own material. Early in the nearly two-hour set, Buble delivered his own hit from 2010, “Haven’t Met You Yet,” and later introduced a recent single, “Close Your Eyes,” both co-written with his longtime arranger Alan Chang. The latter tune had lyrical lines such as “If my love is blind I don’t want to see the light” over a fluffy, irresistible arrangement that recalled Air Supply and other ’70s soft-rock smashes.
But his setlist was, as expected, dominated by classic hits, evergreen pop of the sort that turns up on “American Idol” season after season. Stuff so great that Michael Bolton, perhaps the last cover artist to achieve the level of commercial success Buble has, could hit the charts belting ’em out. Among the highlights: Van Morrison’s “Moondance,” “Feeling Good,” most famously recorded by Nina Simone, and the Bee Gees’ “To Love Somebody.”
And the night featured several smooth, if unsurprising, Frank Sinatra interludes, such as “You Make Me Feel So Young,” “Got the World on a String” and a Latin-tinged “Come Dance With Me.” Like Sinatra, Buble rarely goes for high or low notes, preferring an unmodulated, almost monotone delivery that stays out of the way of the melody.
Yet, as the Rolling Stones once wrote and sang, it’s the singer, not the song. Buble’s a fabulous entertainer, with a skill set that seems destined to take him to an extended engagement at a Las Vegas casino. His charm was as much a part of the festivities as the familiar melodies. He oozes sweetness like only a Canadian can.
Before covering Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness,” he accepted a teensy Washington Capitals onesie from a fan for his newborn son as if it was the greatest gift ever given, to anyone. He fawned over his band, dubbed Team Buble, with each member of the large horn section getting plenty of time under the spotlight and a personal stats page flashed on the arena’s big video screens, the sort of treatment the Toronto Maple Leafs might get at the beginning of a “Hockey Night in Canada” broadcast.
The Sensitive Guy persona and simple vocal stylings didn’t enhance all his offerings. There was a level of artifice that anybody familiar with Pat Boone’s oeuvre could appreciate when Buble rendered Elvis Presley’s last great rocker, “Burning Love.”
But the night’s most memorable moments came whenever Buble played against type with edgy stage banter. While mulling his new fatherhood, Buble went into a long and barb-heavy riff about Justin Bieber, comparing his days full of dirty diapers and crying favorably to being on the road with his fellow Canadian heartthrob. And moments after letting a fan who had run to the front of the stage take a selfie with him using her mobile phone, Buble said he lives in fear of getting gunned down by just such a devoted follower.
Edgiest and giggliest of all, before launching into a mini-set of romantic tunes highlighted by the Bee Gees’ “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart,” Buble urged couples in the audience to snuggle, then advised all singles to take advantage of the mood by soliciting threesomes from nearby coupled-up snugglers. He’s all about getting under the covers.
McKenna is a freelance writer.