Michael Bolton and His Echo at the Birchmere
Saturday, September 22, 2007
Michael Bolton wouldn't leave his house if he cared about critics. And he certainly wouldn't ever put on a show like the one at the Birchmere on Thursday, in which he threw his arsenal of "divo" stage antics and cliched song selections at a half-empty club.
But Bolton is a club-half-full sort of performer, and he has more than 50 million reasons -- one for each album he's sold over the years -- not to care about critics, who risk committing malpractice by doing anything but pummel the guy. He also has his incredibly devoted fans, though apparently not as many as he once had: The concert was billed as "An Intimate Evening With Michael Bolton," and, with tickets running $100 apiece, the setting was a lot more intimate than the singer or club management would have hoped.
But, being pros, the singer and his 10-piece band gave those who showed up the full Bolton package: costume changes, crowd walk-throughs, cheesy song introductions and shadow-boxing endings.
Bolton, fit and handsome at 54, opened with his 1991 pop-soul single "Love Is a Wonderful Thing," which provided one of the night's few reminders that he was once a songwriter (his credits include a 1991 tune called "Steel Bars," co-written with, ahem, Bob Dylan).
But after a court ruled Bolton had copied "Love Is a Wonderful Thing" from an Isley Brothers tune titled, double ahem, "Love Is a Wonderful Thing," his career turned. He's spent the time since then covering the work of others, usually songs so great and so familiar that they are essentially Bolton-proof. In pressed bluejeans and a tight white shirt, he crooned the Bee Gees' "To Love Somebody" and Otis Redding's "Dock of the Bay."
"This one has the name 'Gershwin' next to it," Bolton said before singing "Summertime." He changed into a loose black suit for a swing rendition of Stevie Wonder's "For Once in My Life." He stood on a chair in the middle of the club in faded denims and a tight black shirt to render Percy Sledge's "When a Man Loves a Woman."
No matter what Bolton was wearing or who he was singing, alas, his voice was too often lost in the big-band mix, and there was a soulless ambiance throughout. Yet, for all his weaknesses, the guy oozed celebrity. Before Boltonizing "New York, New York," he said he had recorded the classic only because "my girl talked me into it." He meant Nicollette Sheridan, his tabloid romance partner. Like a lot of folks, she sat this show out.