I am not in the habit of making creative suggestions to legends like the incomparable Johnny Mathis. He’s been thrilling audiences for 64 years — and counting! — in part because he knows what he’s doing. And Mathis’ current tour, dubbed The Voice Of Romance, is aptly entitled, as anyone who attended one of his recent Valentine’s Day shows can attest.
But if Mathis is ever in the market for a new name for his superb stage show, he could consider Unpredictable. Just when I thought I had him all figured out, the 84 year old icon proved he has still got a few tricks under that immaculately tailored sleeve.
Mathis kicked off his show at Marin Veterans Memorial Auditorium in San Rafael with “When I Fall In Love,” first popularized by Doris Day and made popular by one of Mathis’ idols, Nat “King” Cole. Mathis recorded a brilliant version of the tune for his Open Fire, Two Guitars masterpiece in 1959. Sunday evening, his live rendition included a largely forgotten prelude that spoke of feelings of obsolescence.
“Perhaps I’m old fashioned,” Mathis crooned, but “when I fall in love, it will be forever.” The refrain echoed the seemingly undying love Mathis’ fans have had for him since first being smitten by that voice of his, way back in 1956.
And while Day, Cole, and countless others who have recorded “When I Fall In Love” are long gone, Mathis is still at it.
And he’s still got it!
Most of the hits were there, from “Misty” to “Chances Are” and “The 12th Of Never,” to a brilliant Henry Mancini set which capped the concert’s first half. Mathis had earned a handful of standing ovations to accompany the audible sighs and gasps from the crowd by then, and had more than earned a brief break.
But like a master showman, Mathis saved the concert’s most stunning moment for the show’s second half.
As Mathis performs far too rarely in his native Bay Area, I would have bet my left hand that he’d have sung “Yellow Roses On Her Gown,” a plaintive, almost autobiographical ballad about growing up in Northern California. You can find it on his 1975 I Only Have Eyes For You album, and on his comprehensive Columbia box set, a must-have for the serious Mathis fan. I had told many in the crowd, just before the show started, that he was sure to sing it.
I would be writing this review with one hand if I had made that bet.
Mathis bypassed “Yellow Roses On Her Gown,” and closed the show with an encore that I had not heard from him. After his standard, raucous Brazilian music medley, Mathis left the stage to another standing ovation, before returning and bringing the house down with a thunderous version of the Ray Charles hit “Let The Good Times Roll.” The icon confirmed with me the next morning that he had never recorded that song.
Mathis should think about committing that one to wax — there I go again, giving advice to a legend…and dating myself by mentioning “wax” — as I have never heard a more riotous version of the soul standard. Fans from their early 30s to their early 90s who were seated around me — yes, I asked! — were on their feet, clapping and dancing, as Mathis held a culminating high note longer than should be humanly possible — at any age. As he had for the entire two hour concert, Mathis sounded spectacular.
“Let The Good Times Roll” is a metaphor for life if I’ve ever heard one, and Mathis certainly seems to be having the time of his life on this tour. He’s headed to North Carolina next, and he will be all over the country this year, having told me the following morning “I have to go where they want me to sing!”
Johnny Mathis has to go where they want him to sing.
Why don’t you allow me to call a concert promoter on Mars or Jupiter, Mr Mathis. I’m sure that anywhere in the known galaxy there are discerning music fans who have been waiting for you to roll into town…and let the good times roll!
Visit johnnymathis.com for information on the artist and his upcoming tour dates.