REVIEW: ENGELBERT HUMPERDINCK AT THE RIVER ROCK SHOW THEATRE
It’s hard to believe someone has endured a career of almost 50 years with the made up name Engelbert Humperdinck, but it’s true. Such a legacy only comes with good reason, of course. At 79, the English crooner delivered a knockout two hour set at Richmond’s famed River Rock Show Theatre, delivering a set featuring old favourites, classic covers, and a hell of a lot of entertainment wrapped up in comedic morsels.
What came as the biggest surprise of the evening was how much of a jokester Humperdinck is, turning out one-liners in between almost every song. Even more, pretty much everyone and everything was fair game in his line of target, finding fodder anywhere from The Kardashians (“These people have got hidden talent. That’s why I watch the show, I’m trying to find it”) to Tom Jones (“So much gyrating… why?”), to himself (“It’s been 21 years since alcohol has passed these lips. But I also lie.”)
Classic Humperdinck cuts like “The Last Waltz” and the #1 smash “After The Lovin'” satisfied the swoons of the adoring audience, who sang along to every word and tried to rush the stage vying for his attention. During the latter, a vintage video appeared on the screens portraying a fresh-faced Humperdinck belting out the song on grainy ’70s-era television footage. Sitting in the crowd and darting your eyes back and forth between the younger Humperdinck on screen and the live version, it painted the perfect picture of just what a lengthy, impressive career this man has maintained.
“No show would be complete without this one,” he said while leading into “Am I That Easy To Forget”. But really, the man could have played any old song, and his adoring fans would have gone wild. He may be up on today’s pop culture references, but Humperdinck is very much a portal to a different time. To witness his performance is to forget about the sad state of affairs of today’s music industry and be taken back to a day when performers donned silk shirts, wiped their brows with red handkerchiefs, and blew their fans kisses.
“I’m a bit nervous up here,” he told the crowd, poking fun at himself when saying “I’ve been in this business three years now.” The legendary star then went on to tell the crowd how he had received advice from the greats personally, like when Elvis told him to spread his legs apart on stage, and later connected with the crowd by joking about Vancouver weather. “You have four seasons– rain, rain, rain, and under construction.” The personalized charm and touch paid off. Humperdinck could have stood still and sang for an hour without any of the jokes or character, but those moments are what made the experience complete and, likely, has contributed to securing Humperdinck’s place as a career artist.
Many of Humperdinck’s songs still elicit a genuinely timeless feel while holding up as powerful love songs of today, particularly notable in that the Engelbert Humperdinck of 2016 still maintains almost as much power as that of his heyday. The upbeat numbers like “A Man Without Love” stirred up sing-alongs with the crowd with catchy verses, where the ballads had people swaying in their seats, likely acting as a throwback to early romantic memories. He roamed the stage like a young pop prince, and then joked about needing a drink.
The real charm of the show came in the off the cuff moments, like when a tech came to switch out Humperdinck’s vocal monitor, to which he jokingly warned “Don’t touch my ass!”
The show benefitted immensely by Humperdinck’s stellar ten-piece band, featuring two backup singers as well as a brass section.
A certain amount of sentimentality and nostalgia fuelled Humperdinck’s performance, as would be expected. His stories and video montages included a fun, campy televised duet with Dean Martin, and a montage that mentioned he’s sold over 150 million albums to date.
Really, there was something for everyone here. A Calypso-laden “Quando Quando Quando” featured some bad-ass saxophone solos and some infectious bongos. A cover of Elton John’s “Something About The Way You Look Tonight” featured John’s pre-recorded vocal but ended up more touching than cheesy, which sounds almost unimaginable. He also knocked out a cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” with immense strength, and later took on a heart-melting rendition of “The Power of Love” featuring Johan Frank on Spanish guitar. “How I Love You” pulled at the heartstrings with its touching ode to lovelorn memories.
Even for those in the house not necessarily familiar with Humperdinck’s catalogue had a lot to connect with, as much of the show was filled with familiar pop canon favourites, as Engelbert seems to be a man in love with covers. On a country-tinged version of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire”, he donned a cowboy hat and joined in for a line dance with his backup singers. This is a man who, after five decades in show business, still doesn’t take himself too seriously, and his fun-loving spirit shines on stage for his fans to eat up.
During “Release Me”, he changed a lyric to “I can’t believe this song is 49 years old,” showing a clear self-awareness and ability to not be phased by his age, and a willingness to embrace his legacy as a performer. Afterward, an excited fan bounced up in her seat, to which Humperdinck asked her “Have you got a pair of panties in your hand? That’s dangerous if you’ve just taken them off.”
When the crowd goes wild for an encore, Humperdinck characteristically joked “I was coming back anyway,” before performing a cover of Kris Kristofferson’s “For The Good Times,” a fitting goodbye that also showcased Humperdinck in a red robe, miming a boxing opponent, and tossing a dozen or so red handkerchiefs to his adoring fans. Give the people what you want, and it will pay off, surely. Six decades in, Humeprdinck appears to be just getting started.