Harry Connick Jr. still has his health and his looks and is happily married to an underwear model.
So it's tough to pity the New Orleans's most famous crooner just because Wednesday's show at the Warner Theatre didn't live up to his own high hopes.
Connick had miked the room, his Steinway grand and his fine Big Band to record his four-show Warner run for future release as a live album. But early in his opening-night set, he decided that things weren't swinging his way. The normally carefree band leader felt that the staging adjustments made for the taping were cramping his style.
"Oh, this is a real loose show," Connick said sarcastically halfway through his two-hour set. He had just discovered that a microphone stand he was attempting to move out of his way had been affixed to the floor by recording engineers. "No profanity, no dirty jokes and we've got to strip down all our tunes. Man, I'm sorry."
The crowd never asked for an apology, not on a night that found Connick in such fine voice and his 16-piece supporting cast charged up to play the big-band standards that he, like no other pop musician of his generation, was pushing long before the swing revival came and went.
His opening number, Cole Porter's "It's All Right With Me," which Connick included on his 1990 release "We Are in Love," was all right with everybody in the packed house, judging by the ovation. He gave a similarly Sinatraesque reading of Porter's "Love for Sale."
Connick, 31, said he spends most of his time arranging tunes these days. And since swing is no longer the thing with the cool kids, there's no longer much commercial pressure for him to imitate Nelson Riddle when drawing up charts. His new take on "It Had to Be You," much choppier than the version from the "When Harry Met Sally . . . " soundtrack that launched Connick's career as a neo-oldie star in 1989, revealed his emancipation.
The new arrangements didn't faze the faithful. Fats Waller's "Jitterbug Waltz," capped off by solos from the saxophone-bearing posse of Gerry Weldon, Charles Goold and Jimmy Green ("These are the real Three Tenors," Connick boasted), practically had people dancing in the aisles. They were kept toe-tapping through homages to Connick's Crescent City elders, like the Dr. John-style title track to last year's Grammy-nominated CD, "Come by Me." And "Mind on the Matter," a tune that would work in a Funky Meters set, had his fans yelling for more.
No amount of adoration, however, could snap Connick out of his funk.
"I know you're screaming just so you can get on the album," he said. He then lamented his place in the record business, saying he'll never be as big as Latin heartthrob Ricky Martin, and even threatened to bring his recording equipment to a Martin concert just to tape the fans' applause.
"That way people will think this was really fun tonight," Connick said at the end of the show. Until then, most of his audience already did.