I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again—Michael Bolton belongs in Vegas. He’d be a natural at it. Consider Elvis Presley’s late-period shows at the Hilton—around half of a typical evening’s set was given to cover songs not usually associated with The King in his biggest record-makin’ days. So, sure, you’d get “Love Me” and “Jailhouse Rock” and “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” but you’d also get “My Way,” “Softly as I Leave You,” and “Johnny B. Goode,” stuff ol’ E. found sufficiently malleable in his and his band’s hands. Most people who saw him in those days didn’t really care—they were in the presence of the greatest of all rock and rollers, even if he was trapped inside a fat guy in a spangled jumpsuit.
Nine out of the 20 tracks Bolton presents in his new live DVD (which my rat bastard editor Jeff Giles made me watch) are covers—everything from “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay” and “When a Man Loves a Woman,” both of which he has had some success with, to Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love” and “vintage” (his word) songs like “You Don’t Know Me” and “Fly Me to the Moon.” That he slays each one before whizzing on its corpse is immaterial; the London crowd eats it up, just as Elvis’ audiences kept leaving their buffets and blackjack tables to hear a bloated Presley thankyuhverymuch his way through “What’d I Say” and “Hawaiian Wedding Song.”
(If you’ll pardon me for a moment, I would like to dedicate this parenthetical paragraph to saying that Bolton’s rendition of “You Don’t Know Me”—one of my favorite songs ever—is infuriatingly lacking in the soulfulness that the song has at its core, soulfulness that is key to any version of the song, and that anyone who has covered the song successfully—from Ray Charles to Willie Nelson to Mickey-fucking-Gilley—could not help but explore. But it is not nearly as mind-blowingly wrongheaded as his take on “Summertime.” Bolton has a notoriously thin skin about critiques of his covers, but he invites the shit by singing Gershwin like a hoarse Teddy Pendergrass trying to get some chickie out of her panties. Okay. I’m done now.)
Now I’m going to piss away what little critical cred I have by admitting that there is a good bit to like in the eleven songs that remain. Nineties adult contemporary did worse—much worse—than “Said I Loved You … But I Lied,” Bolton’s co-write with Mutt Lange, and “Steel Bars,” his Bob Dylan collaboration, both of which get energetic workouts. “Steel Bars,” in particular, might actually rock a little, and juxtaposed as it is just after “How Can We Be Lovers”—that bestest of all mullet-era toonage—you get Bolton’s best, back to back.
Audiences go nuts for this guy—it’s nearly impossible to count how many concertgoers’ hands Bolton shakes, touches, or places in his mouth in the course of the show (okay, I said “places in his mouth” … but I lied). He strangles “When a Man Loves a Woman” from a mini stage in the middle of the venue, and you can almost see a puddle of pee form around it—surprisingly, not from Bolton himself, but from the suddenly incontinent lasses who find themselves mere inches away from the man without warning. And when he brings out his classic weeper “How Am I Supposed to Live without You,” the assembled crowd takes the chorus for their own.
Ultimately, though, Bolton’s eventual residency at one or another Las Vegas establishment will likely coincide with his abandonment of recording, and he is apparently unwilling to consider that at the moment. His new record, One World One Love (released in Europe last fall, and in the U.S. tomorrow), puts him in contemporary settings with young writers, with varying degrees of success. “Hope It’s Too Late,” “Murder My Heart,” and “Just One Love” get aired here, and are warmly received.
Then again, Bolton could probably just talk to this crowd for 90 minutes and be warmly received. He could save himself some time and sweat by playing the DVD’s bonus half-hour interview, which is surprisingly self-deprecating and interesting, particularly when he discusses his early days as a songwriter. What you can’t help but notice, too, is that he lacks the perpetual squint of this concert performance (as if those Boltonish high notes cause him as much pain as they often cause others) and seems relaxed and funny.
So Live at the Royal Albert Hall is a mixed bag. Big surprise, huh? I hope Jeff got his jollies out of reminding me I can’t say no to any music suggested to me. And I hope you, dear reader, will continue to send suggestions for the column. Next up is alternative metal, Northern Ireland-style. It’s … quite therapeutic?
Wanna see the new Michael Bolton DVD for yourself? Popdose has a copy to give away; just send me an email between now and Friday, May 7. Put “I Want Bolton!” in the subject line and include your name and mailing address in the body of the email. I’ll pick one winning entry at random—if it’s yours, you get the DVD. I’ll even throw in my suggestions for a Live at the Royal Albert Hall drinking game; it’ll getcha fuuuuuucked uuuuup.