When David Foster went on the road a decade ago, he called it the “Hitman Tour” after his PBS special and memoir of the same name.
Because of his endless chain of hits, many for superstars who only require one name – Celine, Barbra, Whitney, Buble, Groban – some attendees expected that the voices behind the songs would also be onstage.
So for his return to touring last year, as well as this current spate of dates that wrapped at a sold-out Atlanta Symphony Hall (he heads to Canada in the summer), the legendary producer/songwriter/musician highlighted what fans could expect: “An Intimate Evening with David Foster.”
For nearly two hours on Sunday – his first visit to Atlanta in a decade - Foster, a three-piece band and a trio of eyebrow-raisingly impressive singers rolled through touchstones of his four-decade career with precise musicianship and easy banter.
From the opening “Winter Games” - the sweeping instrumental Foster composed for the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary – to the satin sheen of Chaka Khan’s “Through the Fire” to scads of soaring classics from Celine Dion (“The Power of Love”), Whitney Houston (“I Have Nothing,” “I Will Always Love You”) and Chicago (“You’re the Inspiration” – originally written for and rejected by Kenny Rogers – “Hard to Say I’m Sorry”), Foster’s signature sounds still resonate.
Do those songs, which he touched in some form, sometimes fall into the schmaltz category? Sure. But Foster’s deft flair for melody more than compensates for the saccharine.
While Foster, 69, is happy to chat about his bonafides –and if you had 16 Grammy Awards and more than half a billion records sold, you would, too – he’s also a gracious host and generous musician.
The additions of “American Idol” alum Pia Toscano, Stevie Wonder protégé Shelea Frazier and classical crossover vocalist Fernando Varela (an “America’s Got Talent” finalist with the group Forte Tenors) only elevate his show.
Foster is, admittedly, nothing more than a serviceable singer (“God doesn’t give with both hands,” he joked). So having the potent pipes of Varerla to tackle Josh Groban’s “You Raise Me Up” (with a cute Groban on video) and Toscano and Frazier to slay the Dion/Barbra Streisand duet “Tell Him,” provided the audience with the vocal prowess Foster could never supply.
What he has, though - along with a brilliant talent for songwriting and producing - are priceless stories, such as bringing a pre-fame Celine Dion to meet Rogers at the Ritz-Carlton in Atlanta; why the grand anthem “St. Elmo’s Fire” really has nothing to do with the movie (it’s about wheelchair-bound athlete Rick Hansen); and his and Peter Cetera’s (somewhat joking) bitterness in losing the Oscar for “Glory of Love” to Berlin’s “Top Gun” ballad, “Take My Breath Away.”
It’s a tremendous break for the triumvirate of singers to share stage time with Foster. Toscano, whose voice eerily echoes Dion’s (her take on Dion’s version of “All By Myself” stunned with the effortless tackling of massive notes), has proven again that not winning “American Idol” can be fortuitous.
Frazier, who can be seen on PBS this month in “Quincy Jones Presents: Shelea,” can reproduce Houston’s formidable vocal runs with grace, but also presents her own confidence. And Varela showcased the potency of his voice on “Nessun Dorma,” which, when done this well, is still memorable despite its ubiquity.
If Foster handpicks you to accompany on tour, be proud, because this is a guy whose place is firmly solidified in the music history books.
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