Most people know Seth McFarlane from Family Guy and Ted, but he’s also an accomplished vocalist who’s garnered a few Grammy nominations and has recorded a number of successful albums. In 2015, McFarlane and a select group of jazz musicians toured together, playing with symphony orchestras across the country, so he’s no stranger to performing live.
I love the Great American Songbook and cover the Café Carlyle frequently. I’ve been fortunate to have many of the artists who’ve performed there as guests on my radio program as well, so when I heard that McFarlane was booked for a “spontaneous” show there on Tuesday night, I was in.
Without any preamble, McFarlane bounded onto the stage and sang Goody Goody, followed by A Foggy Day. McFarlane had a large glass of clear liquid in his hand, which he explained was vodka, having switched to it after being told that Jack Daniels can burn a hole in your stomach. McFarlane has a deep, rich baritone voice and a real affection for the Great American Song Book, and while the Café Carlyle may be a new undertaking, it’s an ideal venue for him.
McFarlane has his own unique style, sometimes evoking Sinatra and Billy Eckstine, although his phrasing really reminds me of Sammy Davis, Jr. I was fortunate enough to see Sammy perform live many times, and I grew up watching him at the movies and on television. Not only could he sing and dance, but early in his career Davis did standup comedy and was a talented impressionist as well. I’ve always considered him the consummate entertainer and perhaps McFarlane is headed there as well.
McFarlane’s humor can sometimes be abrasive, but his poignant rendition of It’s Not Easy Being Green showed a real warmth and sensitivity that was unexpected and most welcome. Other songs included Old Man River, April In Paris and One For My Baby. (McFarlane held a note for so long -- maybe a record -- on Luck Be A Lady, that I was able to drink five shots of bourbon before he finished.)
McFarlane’s band is a group of extremely accomplished musicians: Tom Rainer (piano), Chuck Berghofer (bass), Larry Koonse (guitar), Peter Erskine (drums), Dan Higgins (saxophone), and Joel McNeely (flute).
McFarlane bantered more with the band than the audience, and in a small room like the Carlyle I would have liked to see him engage the crowd a bit more, so we could have learned about his musical interests and perhaps heard a few anecdotes as well. Maybe next time, when he spends more than one night in residence.