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Buble plays it safe but still dazzles

Michael Buble is as much a marketing phenomenon as a musician, having successfully branded himself to the point where his merchandise booth features not only shirts and programs but teddy bears, ties, money clips, and coaster sets. The man himself is the ultimate product -- handsome, cool, and clean, with a low-key swellegance. And if the rapturous response awaiting him at the Wang Center on Saturday night was any indication, the public -- the female half of it, at least -- is buying.

Less a jazz singer than a classic pop vocalist, Buble didn't take many risks with either his arrangements or his material, choosing unassailable standards such as ''I've Got You Under My Skin" and ''Come Fly With Me" as well as safe rock songs: ''Moondance" and ''Crazy Little Thing Called Love," with ''Try a Little Tenderness" and ''For Once in My Life" bridging the gap between the two. He offered no real surprises, simply performing great songs well.

But if Buble was content to leave innovation to others, he proved himself to be a natural showman confident enough of his appeal to announce: ''I especially want to thank all the gentlemen who didn't want to be here tonight."

Introduced as a backlit silhouette behind a screen for the opening, ''Feeling Good," Buble kept things moving as briskly as a Vegas revue, playfully challenging Josh Groban and Il Divo to fights, toying with faithful (if slick) Maroon 5 and Michael Jackson covers, and leaping into the audience to dance with a woman in the third row.

More important, Buble is smart enough to know that he can't survive on charm alone -- and talented enough that he doesn't need to. His mellifluous voice was equally at home on ballads such as Stevie Wonder's ''You and I" and his own ''Home," and Latin-tinged songs ''Sway" and ''Save the Last Dance for Me" (complete with dancing audience members flooding the aisles). Upbeat numbers such as ''Can't Buy Me Love" and Charlie Chaplin's ''Smile" were played at a pace breathless enough that Buble and his band sounded like they were racing to catch up with the drummer. He ended his performance by singing the final verse of Leon Russell's ''Song for You" without amplification, delivering the line ''But we're alone now, and I'm singing this song for you" directly to his fans with nothing between them but air.

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