Paul Anka in Concert: Still a Professional at 73

One would be hard pressed to believe that in the sector of nostalgia shows of pop from 50 years ago, there is any veteran showman as delightful as Paul Anka.

Daniel Tchetchik

Paul Anka is about to garner a great deal of praise in this review, but precisely because he is an attention magnet (an old but still very strong magnet), I feel like giving the first compliment to an unknown musician who sat a few meters behind him. His name is John Cross, and he is the saxophonist and musical director of Anka’s orchestra. Cross, who looks to be about 80 years old, has been working with Anka for some years. He came to Tel Aviv with him five years ago in the excellent show at the Nokia Arena, which began Anka’s current romance with the Israeli audience (this was his fourth performance here in those five years).

It is not at all to be expected that Cross’s face would be preserved in my memory. If you show me the musical directors of Neil Sedaka, Engelbert Humperdinck or Cliff Richard, the nostalgia tycoons who appeared here after Anka, there is no way I would remember them. But it is hard to forget Cross – both because of his age and because of his abilities. Five years ago, the feeling was that the values that Cross brought to the show (richness of sound, precision in playing, and a joy in making music that seemingly did not go with his age) contributed a great deal to Anka’s impressive presence.

So the moment Cross got up onto the stage at the Charles Bronfman Auditorium in Tel Aviv on Saturday, before even a single note was heard and before Anka himself burst in through the audience’s door (that is his steady shtick, and it always works), it was obvious that the show was going to be excellent. And it was. One would be hard pressed to believe that in this sector of nostalgia shows of pop from 50 years ago (in other words, shows that yearn for the early 1960s and even for the late 1950s), there is any veteran showman as delightful as Paul Anka. One would also be hard pressed to believe that there is a better band in this sector than John Cross’s orchestra.

As is usual in nostalgia shows, there were some too-sweet moments that were bothersome mainly to those who did not know the old songs in real time. This potential has always been in Anka’s DNA. His songs played on a string of artificial sentimentality, which did not keep the good ones among them from becoming big pop songs. It was a bit irritating when he did exactly the same thing with a forgettable song such as “She’s a Lady.”

The photographs from his family album (including those of all his grandchildren) could have been left out, not to mention the two or three new songs that paled beside the old hits. But I don’t mind if I have to deal with any of that to see the man who wrote “Crazy Love” and “You Are My Destiny” at the age of 17 standing on stage and singing them wonderfully well at the age of 73.

Anka was not the only one who was 56 years older. So were most of the people who came to see him. When they heard the song “It’s Time to Cry” as young people, the line “When somebody leaves you” meant one thing only. It is likely that the opening line had other meanings on Saturday, as they listened to it so many years later.

Anka, who was supposed to perform here last summer but postponed the show because of Operation Protective Edge, lavished compliments on the resilience of Israel and Israelis, and was answered with applause. He had fewer good things to say about his president. “He promised us change,” he said, “but in light of the state of our economy, change is the only money we have left.” What’s known as “missing Eisenhower.”

Paul Anka, Charles Bronfman Auditorium in Tel Aviv, October 18, 2014