“It’s wonderful to be back in your city again,” a dapperly-dressed 81-year-old Johnny Mathis told the Eccles Theater on Saturday night. “I used to spend a lot of time here, when I worked in the… I can’t remember… I hope I can remember the words to the songs.”
“Oh boy, he doesn’t even know what city he’s in. This is going to be a disaster,” thought my inner-critic
Boy. I was wrong.
Turns out, not only does The Man With the Golden Voice still have quite a voice, but he’s also still quite the showman. Mathis swayed to the music, cocked his head, worked the mic (it had a cord—quite a throwback) and graciously accepted flowers from women. All the while backed by a more than 20-piece band with horns, strings, percussion and even a conductor/piano player.
Save for me—a woman well into my 30s—and my plus one, the crowd skewed heavily old. This was a grandparent’s night out—in the most adorable way. In fact, while everyone seemed to be enjoying the show, I spotted the couple behind me snoozing mid-set and the man in front of me at one point elbowed his wife to wake her up. In their defense, it was a late show—and Mathis didn’t skimp on time, or songs.
Though some were medleys and most were sung in the old-school nightclub way, in which one song blends to the next until the entire setlist become one full melody—love song after love song—for two hours. Of course, after a 50 year career, Mathis’ catalog runs deep. He hit all of the favorites in his set, including “Misty,” Wonderful Wonderful,” and of course, “Chances Are,” throwing in a some covers along the way.
Ever the consummate showman, Mathis seems to know his limitations, and as a result not only builds an intermission into his set, but also enlists a standup comic as part of the halftime entertainment. Brad Upton had the crowd eating out of his hands with his jokes about growing old, children and technology—anywhere else his act would be considered clean comedy, but I’m not sure that some of his material about Viagra and drinking went over as well in what seemed to be a heavily-LDS audience. At the end of his act, the gentleman next to me said with a laugh, “He was talking about us!” Mission accomplished, Mr. Upton.
Back from intermission, Mathis appeared tired, but kept going. In fact, the highlight of the night was likely when he brought out his best friend and guitarist Gil Rogers for a short set of Flamenco-inspired tunes, including an absolutely lovely cover of The Beatles’ “Yesterday.”
It’s a wonder that he had any voice at all of his big finish, a medley of songs tributing Brazil, including “El Corazon.” By the end of night, Mathis and his band had run through more than 25 songs, with Mathis standing for all but one of them, an effort that at the end had the crowd on their feet—for a well-deserved standing ovation.
And maybe it’s because he managed expectations at the beginning, but he seemed to know the words to all the songs, too.