Wednesday, August 31
Born Arnold George Dorsey, it is under the unlikely moniker of Engelbert Humperdinck that the British middle-of-the-road balladeer has found his fame – now on tour to celebrate 50 years in show business. At 80 he didn’t look a day over 77, and if, in his stage attire, he resembled an unlucky punter who had left his Tom Jones costume out in the rain for three days and was refusing to pay the late fees, he still has the songs, enough of the voice and most importantly the character, the charisma, the charm – the showmanship.
In the early songs there was little power to the voice but what became more obvious as the generous 100-minute show progressed was Humperdinck’s ability to live inside the character within each song. The old pro donned a Stetson and showed off some line-dancing for his cover of Bruce Springsteen’s I’m On Fire, having a better way with the song that most who have covered it. The gentle stoicism for his rendition of Bridge Over Troubled Water channelled Elvis Presley, a singer who had taken a cue or two from the Hump – or “Humpty” as he referred to himself – over the years.
When he performed How I Love You he sold the utter dross of that song to such a level – I thought he was going to tear up. A song he’s performed thousands of times and he’s still convinced by it. Such showmanship is to be applauded. And of course it was.
“Applause”, he told the audience, “is the food an artist survives on”. He thanked all for ensuring that he and his tight 9-piece band would not starve.
There were impressions of Tom Jones and Dean Martin. There we jokes – some old, some new. And there were the hits. Quando, The Last Waltz, A Man Without Love, Release Me. Further wise selections from great songwriters included the touching Kris Kristofferson gem, For The Good Times and Boz Scaggs’ Look What You’ve Done To Me.
He waved his goodbyes after thoroughly entertaining an elated crowd. Earning the standing ovation. He stood in a robe and basked. Sending up his age and stage in life. And then he was out, in the toweling dressing gown, shadow-boxing and swinging his hips. It was ludicrous. It was wonderful.
This review first appeared in The Dominion Post and online at Stuff here