Even if George Benson doesn't tour the UK as often as some of his peers of yesteryear – and a sell-out crowd and fevered reception speak to the advantages of that – he's still clearly well attuned to what his audience wants, and the pace at which to deliver it.
Tonight he opens with the signature smooth instrumental guitar jam Breezin', before allowing his virtuosic stuff to give way to the rump of more accessible material by which this 71-year-old Pittsburgh native has built his reputation: namely 70s handbag soul and disco party songs interspersed with oily-slick ballads. In doing so, Benson, dressed tonight in a Milk Tray purple satin jacket, neatly reflects his own career arc: a Django Reinhardt-inspired jazz prodigy turned commercial hit machine.
It's a one-to-one ratio all the way between cheesers fast and slow, meaning the audience by turns stood up and sat down in unison, save the odd rogue punter, mostly female, given to involuntary spasms of leaping to their feet to wave their arms around during even the mushy ones. If it pertains to love and Benson's not written a song about it – among others on a similar theme we get Love X Love, Turn Your Love Around, Lady Love Me (One More Time) and Feel Like Making Love – it's clearly not worth experiencing. "I do love those love songs," Benson concedes, introducing his most loved-up love song of all, Nothing's Gonna Change My Love for You. We had noticed, George.
Disco-funk bump Give Me the Night from 1980 serves a reminder that songs celebrating heady nights on the lash aren't the invention of contemporary EDM producers, much as you struggle to imagine Tiësto penning urbane lines about looking for "a place to dine, a glass of wine". Returning in waistcoat and shirtsleeves for a slim encore of Never Give Up on a Good Thing, with consummate showmanship Benson promptly disregards his own advice and exits leaving his audience wanting plenty more.
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