Sep
19
2008

Boston, MA, US (Chris Botti (Symphony Hall))

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SHOW REVIEW

Boston's historic Symphony Hall was filled with rock stars and assorted dignitaries on Friday night, including homeboy Sting, Chris Botti, Katherine McPhee, Yo Yo Ma, John Mayer, and homeboy Steven Tyler of Aerosmith who performed a raucous version of 'Crazy (When I Met You)' wearing a pair of tight black lace-and-rhinestone studded pants he'd gotten from Cher.

The title of this story could just as well have been 'John Mayer's Singing Causes Man to Have Heart Attack.' That's because just a few lines into Mayer attempting to croon Frank Sinatra's standard, 'In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning', an older white haired man in the fifth row of Symphony Hall seized up and suffered a massive heart attack.

The occasion for all this was the second night of taping a PBS special hosted by horn man Botti featuring all these artists. (On the first night, Josh Groban appeared; violinist Yo Yo Ma was the second night guest.)

It was one certainly one of the wilder nights for Keith Lockhart's Boston Pops, not to mention Symphony Hall, where this reporter once worked. In those days, very few pop stars were ever allowed to perform in the austere hall where Seiji Ozawa and Arthur Fielder raised their hallowed batons.

But Botti and his management team convinced the BSO to let them in, and the results were stunning. The second night show allowed Botti to play the trumpet while Sting led him and Yo Yo Ma through one of his solo classics, 'Fragile'. The refrain - "how fragile we are" - came in handy after the heart attack patient was brilliantly revived by the doctors and nurses who were luckily on the scene.

While we waited - the show was stopped, to be sure - someone cracked to the stage manager, "Does this happen often?" The surprising answer: "Actually yes. The audience for the BSO tends to be old." Thank goodness the Symphony keeps a defibrillator on the premises.

Chris Botti, who once was the bandleader for Caroline Rhea's lamented talk show, turned out to be an unflappable, smooth host. He was able to juggle the heart attack, the various acts who played many different kinds of music, and his own jazz numbers with great ease. He joined each of the acts for duets, and also managed to re-recreate a piece of Miles Davis's 'Kind of Blue' as well as an instrumental version of Pavarotti's 'Caruso' from the movie of the same name, and the stirring theme from 'Cinema Paradiso'.

Meantime, the stars came and went. Sting, now free of The Police, has returned to the more complex musicianship of his solo career. Besides 'Fragile', one of his best songs, he and Botti performed 'Seven Days' and 'If Ever I Lose My Faith in You'. The latter closed the two and a half hour show, and had better be included in the final edit. It was one of those brilliant, sudden pairings, with Botti's more unleashed than usual trumpet wildly punctuating Sting's soaring vocals.

Sting was probably goosed for the second night anyway because of the surprise arrival of wife Trudie Styler from England. Styler had been stuck at home with domestic matters but flew in and got everyone to keep it a secret until the last minute. This is one celeb couple that likes to be together... a lot. How refreshing!

Tyler, of course, is the Tasmanian Devil compared to the trained, restrained and studied Sting. Following Botti's improvised New Orleans style into, Tyler swung onto the BSO stage and belted out 'Crazy' in a long colorful coat and flowing scarves, not to mention those pants. He dedicated his second song, a bluesy version of Charlie Chaplin's 'Smile', to his elderly dad, Victor Tallerico, sitting in the front row.

Later, a friend of Sting's, Boston philanthropist Bobby Sager, told Tyler he had to have the pants for his collection of party clothes. "I can't!" cried Tyler. "Cher gave them to me. And I always wanted to get into Cher's pants."

Rim shot, please.

Sager was just the right Bostonian with enough nerve to ask Tyler, anyway. Earlier that day he and his wife Elaine had hosted a private lunch at their Tremont Street aerie for the president of Rwanda, a country where the Sagers have dedicated their fundraising powers very successfully.

The stars themselves didn't have a lot of contact off stage, although Sting's afternoon sound check did overlap with Tyler's in an amusing way. First they traded little vocal intros from each other's songs. When Sting saw Tyler approaching he belted out a little "Walk this way," to which Tyler screeched back "Rox-anne!" Sting brought out his 12 string lute, which prompted Tyler to announce "That's what we need! A balalaika!"

As for Mayer, he's not Sinatra or Tony Bennett. Shorn of his trademark wavy hair, he more resembled a tall Marc Anthony. (The two should consider doing a video together.) John Mayer without a guitar is an idea whose time hasn't quite arrived, but give him credit for trying. Still, losing his other trademark - weird grimaces and other mouth tics - might help his delivery.

McPhee turned out to be one of the great finds of the Botti spectacular, commanding Sinatra's 'I've Got You Under My Skin' with a feline sexiness. Her little black dress and hot pumps didn't hurt.

A footnote to the Boston adventure: the appearance of none other than F. Lee Bailey, the former super lawyer who was part of O.J. Simpson's Dream Team in 1994-95 and helped the ex pro football star beat his double murder rap. Lee was the most colorful and famous lawyer in America at the time, but he was disbarred in 2001. Simpson - currently on trial again in Las Vegas - will be happy to know Bailey is sticking to his story. He told me over dinner following the Botti show that he still thinks Simpson is innocent of killing ex wife Nicole and her friend Ron Goldman.

(c) Fox News by Roger Friedman

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