Paul Anka does Sinatra, and more

A seemingly ageless idol connects yet again with his many admirers.

July 14, 2019 21:37
4 minute read.
International Song Festival

Paul Anka performs during the 51th Vina del Mar International Song Festival in Vina del Mar city. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Menorah Mivtahim Arena
Tel Aviv, July 11

Judging by the enthusiastic crowd this past Thursday night at the “Anka Sings Sinatra – His Songs, My Songs, My Way” concert in the Menora Mivtahim Arena in Tel Aviv, Israelis love Paul Anka, and he made it abundantly clear that the feeling is warmly reciprocated.
Anka defies conventional notions of what it means to be nearly 78 years old (he first burst onto the scene as a teen sensation in the 1950s). Dapper, slim and sprightly, exhibiting the boundless energy of a perpetual motion machine and with his legendary vocal capabilities apparently undiminished by time, he seemed but a fraction of his age, ­even on the large-screen extreme close-ups projected on each side of the stage.

The professionalism of every aspect of the show entirely befitted a star with numerous top-20 hits over a career spanning an incredible seven decades. There was no warm-up act or need for one, nor did the human dynamo take a break or even low down at any point during the two-hour show. The audience was electrified from the moment the 12-piece orchestra took the stage and the central screen behind them flashed to life with a powerful video recounting highlights of Anka’s career, starting with his earliest heartthrob performances and portraying him through the decades collaborating with a virtual “Who’s Who” of music giants and other celebrities.

When the clip ended, the spotlight suddenly illuminated the star’s grand entrance into the hall, emerging from the crowd and making his way to the stage while singing his 1959 hit “Put Your Head on My Shoulder.” Thousands in the crowd spontaneously belted out the lyrics with him, and those near him reached out to touch him. Audience participation peaked at several points in the show during the most beloved tunes of 20+ song set, such as “Puppy Love,” “Diana,” “You Are My Destiny,” ”Having My Baby” and of course, stirring Frank Sinatra anthems “My Way” and “New York, New York.” Whenever Anka encouraged the audience by pointing the microphone toward them, he was rewarded with the resounding voices of thousands of joyful backup singers.

Anka took his show offstage several times, mingling with the fans in the front rows and even plunging deeper in the crowd, high-fiving, dancing and interacting with fans. He also, to the great appreciation of the concert-goers, spoke movingly between numbers about the back story of his songs and his ties with some of his contemporary stars. His humorous tales evoked laughter, such as when he described what it was like to be crowded in a small recording studio with Dolly Parton, and what John Wayne – who towered over Anka – said when they first met in a field before shooting a movie’s war scene (“Why are you standing in a foxhole?” Wayne boomed. Looking up at the giant movie star looming over him, the diminutive young singer was forced to admit sheepishly, “I’m not, Mr. Wayne). Yiddish expressions mixed in the banter were also savored by the crowd, such as a remark about an audience member who had just “pinched my tuchus” while he was in the crowd.

The performer took the audience on an emotional roller coaster, mixing upbeat pop standards with patriotic, romantic and touching family ballads. Multi-talented, Anka at times played the piano, guitar and even took up a baton to conduct his talented orchestra in an instrumental interlude, highlighting some of them in virtuoso solos.

ANKA  CONCERT tickets are, perhaps surprisingly, a hot commodity. Several excited audience members told The Jerusalem Post that they have been to all of his previous concerts in Israel. Avi Benedict, well into his 60s and also a singer (although “not as famous or as wealthy”) related,“I have been a fan of Paul Anka and Frank Sinatra since my childhood in Morocco.” Shmuel Weiss, 71, who comes to see Anka every time he performs in Israel, remembers connecting with Anka songs “when I was growing up in Poland,” further underscoring the pop star’s worldwide and enduring appeal.

Speaking for a younger generation, Mali Cohen said, “When I was in the [Israeli] army about 25 years ago, I listened to Paul Anka and Frank Sinatra. Seeing Anka here is like a dream come true. It’s my birthday gift from my husband, Avi, actually.” Their children, she noted, although not present, are fans of his music, too.

A key part of the evening was dedicated to Anka’s longtime pal, Frank Sinatra, for whom he wrote the lyrics to “My Way.” Sinatra was a famously strong supporter of Israel, a moral stand that is apparently shared by Anka, as evidenced by several of his friendly remarks during the show. Moreover, while BDS has bullied lesser lights such as Lorde and Lana Del Ray into canceling performances in the Promised Land, Anka – as reported last week in the Post – said in a pre-concert interview that he had little patience for BDS activists and their antics.

“I told them very delicately to f**k off.”

Classy, yet sincere, familiar and accessible – and clearly having fun – Anka proved to be a consummate performer and quintessential crowd pleaser. The evening climaxed with a surprise choice of tunes for his encore – a pulsing version of Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” followed by Elton John’s “The Bitch Is Back,” performed with the crowd cheering on its feet. As one audience member gushed while exiting the venue, “The show exceeded all expectations – and my expectations were high.”

If Israel merits a fifth Paul Anka concert appearance in the future, consider scoring a ticket to experience it before the seats sell out.

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