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Harry Connick Jr. @ The Hollywood Bowl 8/13/2010

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Harry Connick Jr. could very well be the next big thing in stand-up comedy. Playing to a packed house with members of his Big Band and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the N'awlins crooner invited the audience into his musical world--first on a sentimental journey through a songbook of cherished standards, then on a rousing trip to the Big Easy. Beyond the music, however, Connick managed to send the crowd into stitches with his meandering narrative and humorous remarks.

Despite a caveat that there was no production value to his Bowl gig of the likes of Lady Gaga or dazzling fireworks, Connick lit up the ampitheater with his soulful voice and gifted piano playing, backed by the stirring sounds of the strings and brass behind him in the bandshell.

The first half was like a literal warm-up--"Brr, it is straight up COLD out here!" hooted Connick, joking that the chilly air gave his voice a warble akin to that of Julio Iglesias. But it also was a progressive warm-up for Connick and his music, as each song showed a heightened intensity of emotion, which, if you darted your eyes from the stage to the bright electronic screens, was visible on his undeniably handsome face. It seemed almost as if Connick had tumbled out of bed, tousled and drowsy, right into a tuxedo and sat down at the piano in a favorite neighborhood bar, where he could easily extract from himself beautiful music and charm everyone with stories that could just as well have been told to an intimate group of friends pressed thigh-to-thigh in the booth of restaurant in the wee small hours.

Sure, Connick can tickle the ivories and croon familiar love songs that transcend generations like "The Way You Look Tonight," and "For Once in My Life." Glancing around the slope filled with thousands of admirers of all ages is a quick way to gauge his widespread appeal. What was perhaps the most surprising, though, was that he is also remarkably funny, slipping into sentences delivered in character like his penny-conscious Jewish mother balking at the cost of an orchestra conductor, to a more fabulously flamboyant fella who flirted with his bandmates.

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The chemistry between Connick and trombonist Lucien Barbarin was the most entertaining, as the pair flirted along with the notes of the songs, and chased each other atop the divider that splits the audience between the pool section and the first section of boxes. Admitting he was never one to follow a script, Connick was quick to toss off reactions to what he spotted in the audience, such as when someone at his feet snapped a picture of the singer--"Thanks a lot for taking a picture at that angle--right up my nose!"

Post-intermission--a break Connick said he hated to take but gave him time for a "costume change"--the mood was jubilant and focused exclusively on songs of New Orleans. But it ended far too soon thanks to the Bowl's strict curfew. Just when the musicians were loosened up and ready to jam, the last notes were squeezed out and the lights in the seats were pumped up so everyone could pour themselves down the hill and into waiting buses and cars. A shame those same cars and buses weren't going en masse to the streets of New Orleans where the party could carry on properly through the night, but a happy exit nonetheless, carried by the exuberance of Connick's music and the phenomenal night of entertainment we'd just shared.

Harry Connick Jr. and his Big Band with the LA Philharmonic play the Hollywood Bowl again tonight.