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Michael Bolton pleases his audience with love songs – but without the trademark voice and hair

Grammy Award-winning singer Michael Bolton returned to Niagara Falls on Saturday night, and for the fans who filled the Event Center in the Seneca Niagara Hotel and Casino, it was a trip down memory lane.

Bolton wove his way through more than three decades of the music that helped him sell 75 million albums worldwide.

Bolton arrived as part of his 2015 world tour, celebrating a deep catalogue of music that, while it may have peaked in the late 1980s and early 1990s, clearly still resonates with his fans. From the opening notes of “To Love Somebody,” through his encore of the Ray Charles classic, “Georgia,” they danced, swayed, and sang along as Bolton did what he has always done best – pulled at the collective heartstrings of women everywhere.

Dressed in an untucked black shirt, jacket and jeans, Bolton eased around the stage, joking with the audience, offering up just the right amount of storytelling in between his ballads, and appearing to be a man who has found the sweet spot that has allowed him to fill a venue nearly two decades removed from his last chart-topping hit.

While the magnificent mane of flaxen hair he was known for in his heartthrob heyday is long gone, unfortunately so is his ability to command the stage with his once-powerful voice. There is no denying the show offered flashes of Bolton in his (near) prime. His take on the blues hit, “Sweet Home Chicago,” was the highlight of the night and included Bolton showing he can hold his own on the guitar with an impressive instrumental.

Unfortunately, in the first 60 minutes of the evening, he left the stage for two extended periods, leaving his capable band to entertain the crowd. While enjoyable, his fans didn’t pay to see a band. They paid to see Bolton. In his second absence, singer Amanda Brown took over and sang (beautifully) a medley of some of the singer’s well-known hits.

Again, Brown showcased a stand-alone voice, but it rang odd to have an unknown backup singer performing the featured artist’s hits while he was nowhere to be seen.

Still, when Bolton reappeared, he was in the crowd. He launched into his Grammy Award-winning cover of “When a Man Loves a Woman,” and his fans ate it up.

In the end, while his friendly, almost-folksy stage presence were refreshing, the 62-year-old Bolton seemed to struggle to hit the notes and sustain himself during some of his biggest hits – including his closing offering of “Time Love and Tenderness,” where he was wildly fluctuating during the chorus and left the version a shallow hull of the iconic love song he is best known for.

Kudos to Brown for her vocals and sax man J.P. DeLaire, both of whom made a mark with their distinctive talents.

And for true Michael Bolton fans, for a $36 ticket, they heard a legend tick off his biggest hits, including “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You,” and “How Can We Be Lovers.” For that, I suppose it was worth (most of) the price of admission.

For others, I imagine it sent them home to dig through their CD collection and dust off that old copy of “Soul Provider,” in hopes of reliving the voice (and the hair) that captured the charts of millions of fans 25 years ago.

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