Fort Worth — The much-maligned and celebrated singer Michael Bolton enthralled his large fan base at Bass Performance Hall on Friday night accompanied by his band and the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Steve Hackman. His biggest successes came in the late 1980s with emotional ballads in the adult contemporary style. His biggest detractors are those allergic to that saccharine style while ignorant of his talent. The night’s alternatively laid-back and surging energies were each topped off by Bolton’s unfailing tenor range and blues-lite phrasing.
The well-produced arrangements began with cinematic synths and a staged introduction to the superstar. Heartthrob to baby boomers, Bolton confidently launched into “Stand By Me” by Ben E. King. Next, another tribute “To Love Somebody” by Barry and Robin Gibb again featured the real star of the evening and lynch pin to Bolton’s status: his range. Notes in the high tenor register of about G4 to C5 were consistently pinned to Bass Hall’s ceiling dome. This is his hook. To make it to stardom a pop singer must have a unique sound. When Michael Bolton hits those notes, you know exactly who it is. In every song he returned to his money makers.
In between songs he was loose, funny and easy-going. Gently deprecating himself several times about his age, he also graciously encouraged those in attendance to make as much noise as they wanted. By the third cover “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” the crowd melted to putty. Another sweet mid-tempo middle aged make-out song, “Said I Loved You but I Lied” reliably satisfied everyone. Literally true to form, after two-and-a-half minutes it had the first of several more to come ascending half-step modulations. Sure, it has all the Muzak-soul of a motivational poster but, who doesn’t love pancakes? A masterclass in professionalism, every single phrase came out with effortless perfection.
Sung by Laura Brannigan in 1983, he let the audience sing the chorus title of his first hit song “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You.” Frank Sinatra’s “That’s Life” provided modulation no. 2. His high voice easily juggled the various styles of Ashford and Simpson’s "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," David Foster’s ‘The Prayer,” and the blues classic “Sweet Home Chicago,” which surprisingly featured himself on an excellent and gritty electric guitar solo.
After intermission he again surprised the audience by singing “When a Man Loves a Woman” from the middle of the floor seats. More soul, more high notes, modulation no. 3. For those of you keeping score at home: “How Can We Be Lovers” brought modulation no. 4; “Steel Bars” brought us to modulation no. 5 and “Soul Provider” modulation no. 278.
The FWSO were short-changed in no way, given arrangements that kept things lively. Maestro Hackman attended and encouraged them throughout. His tight band fired on all cylinders.
Michael Bolton’s longevity will continue as long as his voice holds out, as it did all Friday night. His signature style and high range are as enduring as his popularity.