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Polished Bolton brings the house down

When I told a buddy I was taking my wife to a Michael Bolton concert Saturday night, his response was this: "Why are you being punished?"

But you know what? I'm glad I went. Not only did I score a few points with my bride, but I witnessed a very good concert in Seneca Niagara Casino's Events Center.

Make no mistake, the 59-year-old soul crooner aims his show at the ladies. Guys like me, who grew up loving the Beatles, Rolling Stones and the Who, are not in Bolton's target audience.

But I respect great showmanship and I respect solid musical talent, and Bolton has both. In a high-energy show that clocked in at just under two hours, he exhibited his abilities to perform rock, soul, power ballads and even an opera song.

And the women, who made up the large majority of the sellout audience, were eating it up, jumping around like rabbits and screaming like teenagers at a Justin Bieber concert.

"I love you, Michael! I LOVE YOU!!" screamed one woman a few rows behind me, over and over again.

"I love you more than she does!" yelled another woman nearby.

"I love you, too, voice in the dark," Bolton replied with a smile. "We have people strategically placed throughout the audience, to say nice things about us."

Sometimes the screaming became a bit annoying, but the music was terrific. Backed by a talented six-piece band and two singers, Bolton worked his way through a set that leaned heavily on his reworkings on some wonderful hit songs from the '60s, including Otis Redding's classic "(Sittin' on) the Dock of the Bay," the Bee Gees' "To Love Somebody" and "When a Man Loves a Woman," which was a huge hit for both Bolton and Percy Sledge.

I'm not suggesting that Bolton's versions are as good as the originals, because they are not, but he did put his heart and soul into the numbers. One of my friends insists that anyone other than Redding singing "Dock of the Bay" is "sacrilege," but there was nothing wrong with Bolton's version.

A tall, handsome dude who has sold more than 53 million recordings and has been named to several of People magazine's "Sexiest Men" lists, Bolton is blessed with a strong, soulful voice, and he seems to take his inspiration from Wilson Pickett, Redding and other great black singers. And if you're going to choose someone to emulate, a performer could do a lot worse.

He is versatile. Telling the audience, "This is the kind of music I started with," he strapped on an electric guitar and played some fine solos on the all-time blues classic, "Sweet Home Chicago." He gave an energetic interpretation of Frank Sinatra's jaunty hit "That's Life" and did a creditable job on "You Don't Know Me," popularized by the great Ray Charles.

At a couple points in the show, Bolton took a rest and gave his band -- especially saxophone wizard Michael Lington -- the chance to strut their stuff.

Putting his sandpaper-and-gravel voice to a test, Bolton joined his lovely duet partner, Kelly Levesque, on David Foster's soaring, inspirational ballad, "The Prayer." Their performance brought the house down. They also did a fine job on Bob Dylan's "To Make You Feel My Love."

Bolton has had so much success as an interpreter of songs written by others that many people do not realize Bolton is also a very successful songwriter. He once wrote a song -- I'm not kidding -- with Dylan, and songs written by Bolton have been covered by a wide range of artists, including Barbra Streisand, Kanye West, Joe Cocker, Cher, Patti Labelle and Wynonna Judd. He also performed with the late opera star Luciano Pavarotti and blues master BB King, and before he was famous, he fronted a hard-rock band.

So it was no great surprise when, near the end of the show, Bolton charged into several of the best songs he's written, including a highly emotional rendering of "Time, Love and Tenderness" and the very popular "How Can We Be Lovers."

The encore was pretty cool, too -- "Pride (In the Name of Love)," U2's tribute to Martin Luther King.

And when it was all over, I had indeed scored some points with my wife by taking her to see one of her musical heroes.

"I'm all aflutter!" she said, when I asked what she thought of the concert.