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Posted 09.23.09 Concert Review

Thanks to decades as a professional musician, it seems Harry Connick Jr. can adapt to any song or crowd. The renowned singer, pianist and actor performed much of his new covers album, 'Your Songs,' for the first time at New York's Hiro Ballroom Tuesday night while conducting an 18-piece band and treating the audience to his unique brand of comedy. Even though Connick said the recording took him out of his comfort zone, he ran through the hour-plus set as if he'd been playing these songs all his life. Opening with the classic 'The Way You Look Tonight,' Connick immediately connected with his fans, shaking hands and posing for pictures. After the song ended, he even brought a fan onstage for a photo op and a kiss, then jokingly dismissed her by saying it was "my show." He then played covers of Frank Sinatra's 'All the Way' and Burt Bacharach's 'Close to You,' switching off between standing singing at the front of the stage and from his piano. After a Latin-influenced version of the Beatles' 'And I Love Her,' Connick went into a long, entertaining story about how Sony exec and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Clive Davis, who also attended the gig, got the project going. Connick said he was used to working only with Tracey Freeman, his longtime friend and producer, so he was unsure what to make of it when Davis approached him with the project. Davis talked Connick into the project, saying the album was meant to feature both Connick's singing and arranging over the classics, and 'Your Songs' was born. The process wasn't always so easy, though. The pair held meetings in Davis' "elaborate" office every week, discussing song choices and arguing about arrangements. Aside from their squabbles Connick was also taken aback by Davis' eloquence, saying the producer would refer to parts of the recording as "picayune" or "strident," descriptions Connick would mistakenly take as compliments. Despite their occasional disagreements, Connick graciously admitted that the record wouldn't have become what it was without Davis' influence. One of the night's most entertaining moments came after a performance of Billy Joel's 'Just the Way You Are,' when Connick brought up New Orleans trombonist Lucien Barbarin. The friendship between the longtime collaborators was evident both in their banter -- Connick said "What's up, sexy?" as Barbarin walked onstage -- and their duet on 'St. James Infirmary/Just a Closer Walk With Thee,' which featured long solos by both while Connick kept the beat by stomping and hitting his piano. Even though his gifts are already well-known, Connick showed off a hidden talent, borrowing band member Roger Ingram's trumpet for 'Sheik of Araby.' He modestly noted that he didn't know what he was doing with the instrument and that Ingram lent it to him "not only because he's a nice guy but because I'll fire him." After taking a subdued solo during the upbeat song, Connick said he was sure that Davis was kicking himself for not including his trumpet skills on the album, even though they probably "sucked." He then likened his brass stylings to the vocal abilities of Milli Vanilli, whose hit records were distributed by Davis' then-label, Arista. Rather than let the topic go, Connick crooned, "Clive you know it's true ..." as the crowd laughed nervously. Connick then went back to a string of classics, including Don McLean's 'And I Love You So' and Elton John's 'Your Song.' Before Nat "King" Cole's famous 'Mona Lisa,' Connick talked about recording his version of the song at Capitol Records – aka "the house that Nat built" – on Cole's piano, calling the experience "heavy." He closed out his main set by paying tribute to his wife, former Victoria's Secret model Jill Goodacre, who was unfortunately too ill to attend. Rather than accept the crowd's sympathy, Connick noted that Goodacre is so over hearing him sing and that she's great at "critiquing and criticizing" him. He took the joke one step further, claiming that he's gay, the marriage is all for the press and that the couple doesn't even know who's the mother of their kids. More seriously -- we think -- he introduced 'Besame Mucho,' which is Spanish for "kiss me, a lot," by saying his wife hated that he didn't even speak the language or know what the words mean. As the encore began, Connick wanted to know if the crowd thought he pulled the song off and pondered the possibility of a duet with Charo, Ricky Martin or Julio Iglesias Jr. Connick then remarked about how Iglesias was given a plane by his record label, and told Davis he'd accept a Buick, like Tiger Woods, or even a Schwinn, just so he could say "Sony gave me a ride." He then closed the evening with a cover of Professor Longhair's 'Go to the Mardi Gras,' sitting at the piano and then dancing with Barbarin as the band took turns soloing. After the show, Davis, who's worked with artists such as Bruce Springsteen, Pink Floyd, Whitney Houston and Alicia Keys, told Spinner that hearing Connick "introduce these songs and be so comfortable with them" was the highlight of the show for him. "To see the spirit he brings to it -- and he hates when anyone makes this analogy -- I've got to say, he is a young Frank Sinatra," Davis continued. "It was very special to see him stretch out with this material and to intersperse it with New Orleans music and some of his classics with his musicians. He certainly is very, very well known but I think it's just a fraction of what he can and will be around the world." Permalink