They Don’t Make ‘Em Like Johnny Mathis Anymore: Live In Temecula
“Perhaps the glow of love will grow with every passing day, or we may never meet again…”
That refrain is at the emotional center of the legendary Johnny Mathis’s “It’s Not For Me To Say,” one of dozens of cherished hits in his repertoire. I’d last heard it live in February of 2020, just weeks before COVID-19 would shutter live concerts along with the world around them. That would be the last indoor live performance I’d attend before Mathis’ sold-out performance last weekend at the Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula.
Mathis has been back on the road for about a year, after the longest hiatus of his career. He told me by phone that not being on stage for so long was hard for him. Last weekend, it was quite clear that he’s very happy to be back. He seemed to be having the time of his life.
Mathis’ performance Saturday night was on my birthday, no less, but I couldn’t have cared less about cake and ice cream: I wanted Mathis! I still dream that, one day, I’ll wake up and sound just a little bit like him when I’m singing in the shower.
Until that miraculous morn, I have shows like Saturday night’s, which started a little tentatively with a wistful cover of “When I Fall In Love.” That opening tune included a lovely, rarely-sung prelude that speaks of romanticism which, according to the song’s lyricist, is a remnant of times gone by:
“Maybe I’m old fashioned, feeling as I do. Maybe I’m just living in the past…” Mathis poignantly sang as the show opened. The same could be said of the chanteur himself. If he is living in the past, I want to be there, too. Thanks to performances like this, his gorgeous catalog, and his well-preserved voice, I can be there any time I’d like.
They just don’t make ‘em like the immaculately dressed Mathis any more, crooning like his life depended on it. Given what he shared with me during the early months of the pandemic, maybe it does.
At 86 years old, Mathis commands an impressive vocal range and breath control that remain amazingly robust. I still can’t figure out how he hits — and holds! — that high note toward the end of “Misty.” His vocal artistry is unmatched among singers living today.
Mathis revealed his age only a couple of times during the 90 minute show, when he forget the lyrics to a pair of songs. The man hysterically sang “I forgot the words” to each of the two tunes until his memory caught up with the orchestra, much to the amusement of everyone in the audience.
The concert included sublime versions of “Wild Is The Wind,” “Wonderful, Wonderful,” “Misty,” “Chances Are,” “Moon River,” and most of the others that any Mathis fan would want to hear. The legend closed the show with a rouser that he has been living on stage for over 65 years, now: “Let The Good Times Roll.”
As Mathis shuffled offstage, he bellowed three words to the audience that were as heartfelt as anything he sang Saturday night. “I love you,” he shouted, as if bidding farewell to a bunch of his best pals. And we loved him right back.
Only one thing marred an otherwise perfect show, and that was out of the artist’s hands: the ubiquity of smartphones. Despite posted signs in the theatre’s lobby and a pre-show announcement, the distracting glow of dozens of touchscreens filled the otherwise darkened theatre. Three of the family of four seated in the row just in front of me recorded the entire concert, with their phone’s screens at full brightness. Sadly, the Pechanga Resort and Casino’s staff may have to be more diligent in enforcing “no recording” policies during performances.
Ah, well. Maybe I’m as old fashioned as Mathis is.
As we filed out of the theatre, I overheard a part of a conversation between a couple who appeared to be in their 40s, far too young to have been around when Mathis debuted in 1956. One of them said “I can’t believe he still sounds like that, after so many years.”
That gent shouldn’t have been surprised. He’s probably not shocked when a bird flies, or when a fish swims. When Johnny Mathis takes the stage and blows his audience away, he’s simply doing what he was born to do.
If history serves, chances are Mathis won’t be touring forever, so catch him live while you have the chance. You may not be able to boast that the show will be a birthday gift from the legend, but you’ll have a ball nonetheless.
For information on Johnny Mathis’ The Voice Of Romance tour, and links to tickets, go to johnnymathis.com