Mark Hooper, a Little Rock music buff and sometimes writer, caught last night’s Michael Buble show at Alltel Arena, and files this report:

With a modified arrangement of Alltel Arena, Michael Buble wowed a crowd of 3,721  fans, Wednesday night with his loveable candor and stagemanship, not necessarily with his pipes. The man knows how to work a crowd! But his vocal prowess caused many with good ears to wag their heads — to shake out the occasional clunker notes. Mr. Buble gets a strong A+ for stage presence and a weak B- for vocal control.
 If Michael Buble was a contestant in the all too famous “American Idol,” he would nail the audition for his rich, strong, capable voice – he has a very unique timbre and velvety vocal quality that prompts people to sit up and listen. For this, he would be a strong contender in the competition. But, his occasional lack of vocal prowess would render him too exposed to survive.
Last night’s performance was enjoyable, but all too often interrupted with examples of vocal pitfalls. The singer slid out of control with sharp notes – especially at the end of several songs (“The Way You Look Tonight”). Slurred and inaudible entrances into songs (“A Song for You”) poorly sung melody lines (“You Don’t Know Me”), poor breath control (“Try A Little Tenderness”) and blurted clunker notes (“Crazy Little Thing Called Love”) popped up throughout the evening’s show.
Conversely, two of the better performances from last night’s concert happened to be the two Nelson Riddle arranged Sinatra classics – “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” and “Come Fly With Me.” Sinatra said of Riddle, “Nelson had a fresh approach to orchestration and I made myself fit into what he was doing.”Riddle was known as a great arranger for singers…something that would benefit Buble tremendously. When given this good material, Buble was swinging strong. The rest of the evening he was lost (even inaudible at times) amongst overdone arrangements, oddly tonal modulations and counter melodies that seemed to clash with his brand of vocal styling rather than enhance and accentuate the strength of his voice.
This is an artist who needs the support of a studio and a seasoned producer listening to what he is recording. Perhaps Buble’s friendship with over-produced pianist/performer (and fellow Canadian) David Foster, along with his longtime producer Humberto Gatica, has been more than a catalyst for his success? Can this also be his curse? On his recordings his vocals remain smooth and steady, from beginning to end. But in a live performance, it is obvious that many situations merit Buble’s dependence upon the ears of better trained musicians.
In concert, Buble whips the women into a frenzy with his charm and candor, then hangs around throughout a song just to set up some big “belter” note – the Little Rock crowd took this bait consistently. The musicians in the crowd could clearly recognize this from him, as I overheard a few muttering underneath the giggly chatter of a multitude of women, with extra air in their tires (oh, nevermind …you needed to be at the concert to understand that reference).
OK, as a fellow singer I have more than slightly put Michael Buble through the ringer. But, as a fellow stage performer I have nothing but high regard for his stage presence. Buble is just so damn likeable! He quickly and masterfully wraps a crowd around his Canadian pinky. He is very grounded and down to earth guy yet demonstrates a quick wit and showmanship that is well focused. Buble’s impressions of Johnny Cash followed by Michael Jackson were complete showstoppers, as the Little Rock crowd roared with approval.
His appreciation for the United States, and our soldiers overseas, was movingly framed by the performance of his original song “Home,” co-authored by David Foster and Bill Ross. The Alltel crowd again roared and rose to its collective feet in a rousing standing ovation. Buble had this crowd completely hooked.
All in all, the night proved enjoyable. If Buble can conquer the vocal demons when performing live, then he can take his place alongside the ranks of other great classics stage performers, like Jamie Cullum, Harry Connick Jr., k.d. lang, Lyle Lovett, Tony Bennett, and even Frank Sinatra. If and when he returns to Little Rock, I will be there to witness how he has grown as an artist.
– Mark Hooper