There are musicians, and there are entertainers, and then there is Michael Buble, who stepped onto the stage at the Chesapeake Energy Arena Saturday night amidst a burst of actual flames during the opening strains of his take on Little Willie John’s “Fever.” And by stepped, I mean did a standing slide down a ramp, in a tuxedo, with building-sized graphics of fire behind him—without missing a note.
What felt at first like a bit of a gaudy throwback quickly humanized when, after the first song ended, Buble addressed the crowd: “I hope you liked that opening with the fire. I spent all of my money on that.” And then, with a smirk, “The rest of the show is s***.”
It wasn’t that, of course, though when your two-hour set is comprised of a guy in red carpet-level dress mostly just reaching far into the Great American Songbook, you have a bit of a can’t-miss.
That’s probably an accurate way to describe Buble, particularly in a live setting when given a chance to engage with his audience: He’s a can’t miss. It is exceedingly difficult to find something to not like about him, even if you try. And that’s curious, since Buble, while a capable vocalist, certainly wasn’t the best musician onstage last night. He’s funny, but he’s not an incendiary comedian, and he’s endearing but not overwhelmingly so.
What Buble has done somehow is touched on a magical combination of sweet and vulgar, down-home and—dare I say it—sexy, with measurable talent and a penchant for snazzy dress to boot. It’s a rare, old-world sort of charisma that he possesses and manipulates quite naturally. Against all odds, this Canadian nerd really does own the stage, all while bearing strong resemblance to former Thunder backup Cole Aldrich.
A handkerchief toss during “I’ve Got the World on a String” sent a small section of the first few rows into a feeding frenzy, just after the singer introduced each member of his band with a personalized “Team Buble” ESPN-style graphic on the big screen and a laugh-grabbing non sequitur like, “When I grow up, I want to be just like him: a big, sassy black dude.”
The singer’s renditions of Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love” and Nat King Cole’s “That’s All” followed and were concert highs, musically speaking. There were moments during those two songs in particular where the guy looking for the laugh disappeared, and in his place, a veteran performer just very, very seriously singing songs he clearly loves.
Those peaks were followed by an uncomfortable anachronism in a confusing rendition of Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky,” during which Buble headed through the crowd to a secondary rear stage. From there, he performed classics “Who’s Loving You” and “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” accompanied by the tour’s supporting act, the a cappella performance group Naturally 7, whose crowd-pleasing earlier set included the most endearing version of a Coldplay song anyone has heard in years.
After performing his own hit “It’s a Beautiful Day,” Buble left the stage briefly, then returned and admitted he hates the ceremony of the staged encore. After a Drifters cover and an impromptu duet of Randy Newman’s “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” with an adorable child plucked from the audience, Buble closed with Leon Russell’s “A Song for You,” calling Russell a genius. He paused, asked the crowd to be quiet, and finished the song with no microphone, just a spotlight and hushed grand piano accompaniment. It was a pretty moment, though unfortunately out of place with the crowd and tone of the preceding show.
At one point, Buble professed his hope that, despite how cynical the world is, that people in the crowd could just escape for a little while. He said he does it all “for romance, for love,” and a palpable group swoon left thousands of ladies swatting cartoon hearts from around their heads and, thanks to a fluttery downpour during “All You Need Is Love,” leaving them alongside the confetti hearts on the floor.