We all knew Michael Feinstein could sing. A few of us knew he could play the piano, though before Friday's concert in UB's Center for the Arts, I personally didn't know how good he was.
But who knew he could be so funny? Feinstein's concert was full of laughs. He gave us a grave, ponderous speech about how Irving Berlin had shown tolerance, before it was fashionable, for different kinds of love. Then, as we all wondered what we were in for, he launched into "I Love a Piano." Easily one of the funniest show business moments I have ever seen. Self-deprecatingly, he told us: "I have a Web site. It's www.michaelbuble.com. He smiled, flashing those teeth.
And when one woman piped up unbidden from a back row, asking for this song or that, Feinstein gave her the floor for an unbelievable length of time. Then he said: "Do I talk during your show?" When he's tackling the songs he loves, Feinstein often shows he is made of more serious stuff. He sings them with their verses and with scholarly mention of the shows they were from, with complete commitment. He looks right at you, his eyes wide.
His heart is in this music. Friday, he put a wistful spin on the melancholy numbers. Alone with the piano, he sang a sad and sodden "One For My Baby (And One More For the Road)." His playing was simple and bluesy, just right for the piece.
"How Do You Keep the Music Playing?" could choke you up, and so could Gershwin's lovely "Of Thee I Sing."
But when a song has humor in it, Feinstein rises to the occasion. "Girl Talk," a silly song, probably never sounded better than when he sang it, with sly humor. That "I Love a Piano" was hilarious, with Feinstein reveling in the "P-I-A-N-oh . . . oh . . . OH!"
Backing Feinstein up was a fine pick-up ensemble featuring Dave Schiavone on sax, Tim Clark on trumpet, John Bacon Jr. on drums, Mike Moser on guitar, Al B. Burke on drums and Jim Coleman on bass.
Schiavone, especially, kicked in a lot of colorful solos. But really, Feinstein could have gone it alone. All he needs, I am guessing, is that piano.
He winged it solo through a Gershwin medley, of songs he invited the audience to suggest.
I made a show-off request for "He Loves and She Loves." I got it. Thank-you, Michael!
Other people asked for "Fascinatin' Rhythm," "Someone To Watch Over Me" (Feinstein played the daylights out of that) and "They Can't Take That Away From Me."
Playing straight through to almost 10 p.m. without an intermission, Feinstein ended with a few encores. I could have done without "Great Balls of Fire."
You do not go to a Feinstein concert to hear that, I don't care if he can do it. But his "The Way We Were" -- that was classic Feinstein, crooned to us with intense eye contact, ended with his eyes raised to heaven, one arm outstretched, hand open.
At the end, a woman behind me breathed, "That song is so beautiful!" Who could ask for anything more?
Friday night in the University at Buffalo Center for the Arts, Amherst.