Just too good to be true, we can’t take our eyes off Frankie Vallie and his crew
The Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons show at Strathmore last night was sold out and so is tonight’s performance.
For a good reason.
No matter your age or the size of your waistline, Frankie and his gang are exquisitely, over-the-top good. They were well worth the crazy drive in rainy, rush hour Beltway traffic.
Frankie, now 80, is a survivor.
He’s the only member of the original Four Seasons who has not faded away from the public eye. Frankie’s outlived Elvis, Jim Morrison, John Lennon, and George Harrison. He’s outlived Amy Winehouse – and his absolute idol, Frank Sinatra.
Amazingly, he’s still got The Voice.
And, he used it to rock and roll the audience through a non-stop set of 27 songs.
Behind the bandstand, the backstage area of the Stathmore was draped in black curtains. A large white screen hung down over the stage. Two trestles brimming with lights hung high in the rafters, ready to work some magic. The smoke machines were humming.
The show was directed by Robby Robinson, the music director who has worked with Frankie for 36 years. Robinson, stationed center stage near a small monitor, also played the keyboards. Craig Pilo was the drummer. There were three playful guys on stringed instruments, a joy to watch during the show. The threesome were definitely, at times, more Jimi Hendrix in their performances than what one might have watched playing backup on a ‘60s-era The Ed Sullivan Show. They were John Menzao on bass, and on guitar Jamie Arent and an Italian “refugee,” the rambunctious, ponytailed Robbie Angelucci. The multitalented Rick Keller performed on saxophone, flute, several other horns and percussion instruments. The outstanding five-man horn section and a second drummer were all local talent.
The Four Seasons, the clean cut singer-dancers who provided a seamless backup ensemble for Frankie, are young enough to be his grandsons, but more than good enough to pass muster as his colleagues. They are Richmond native Brad Sharp, brothers Brian Brigham and Brandon Brigham from Los Angeles, and Todd Fournier of Toledo.
The sound the audience heard was not that of a four-man band from a long-ago era. These guys polished up the old notes, giving them a new, modern sheen and a new kick-ass attitude. As the audience filed into the cavernous, but comfortable Marriott Concert Stage hall, orchestral – or Muzak – versions of some of The Four Seasons’ hits played as background music. It was the only flat note of the evening.
The show began with a montage of photos and album covers flashed on the screen from the early 1960s through to the current era. Frankie is shown with a dozen different hair styles and clothing we wish stayed only in Saturday Night Fever. He is pictured with a middle-aged Sinatra and a current day Paul McCartney.
Whether as The Four Lovers, The Wonder Who?, The Four Seasons, or Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, from 1962 through 1978, the group sold over 100 million albums.
The screen vanished and in the darkness, the band began playing live. The four singer-dancers took their places onstage. They were dressed Mad Men style in black business suits, white starched shirts and red ties.
Frankie walked out – to a roar of applause from the eager audience – and took center front. He, too, wore a dark suit. But, with a round neck t-shirt and a flouncy, pink silk pocket square.
They kicked it with a loud, exuberant version of Grease. The stage lights fanned the stage in laser-like rays of red for the opening chords of the next set, Dawn.
The Four Seasons – the singer-dancers – were riveting. Every note, every movement was choreographed and flawlessly delivered. It was not like watching robots – the four were comfortable with their routine and would improvise or add a signature touch from time to time.
About a half hour into the performance, Frankie paused to reminisce about the day his mother took him, at a young age, to see a Frank Sinatra concert at the New York Paramount Theatre.
“I never saw so many women in my life,” he said, gazing google-eyed over the audience.
“They were screaming and throwing undergarments on the stage …”
He looks around.
“They were throwing undergarments, wallets and credit cards …”
He looks around again.
Back to the show.
An hour into the performance, neither Frankie, nor the Four Seasons or the musicians appear to be winded or even perspiring. Sure, Frankie is not doing headstands or the splits onstage. He never did. But, not a lot of 80 year-olds can stand and deliver a song with the same falsetto most of us have heard all of our lives.
Maybe even in utero.
He’s been performing for over 55 years. His first minor hit – and Ed Sullivan appearance – was in 1956. His first Four Seasons hit was in 1962 with “Sherry.”
The singer doesn’t want to perform solely the songs he and his mates made famous. For several songs, Frankie leads the audience down memory lane with several classic rock ‘n roll era tunes sung … his way.
Can you imagine “Spanish Harlem” tweaked with Frankie’s famous falsetto?
More than an hour into the show, the audience is sweating. Frankie has urged them to clap and sing along – and most jump at the opportunity. They are having a great time.
Frankie and the Four Seasons briefly leave the stage, giving the band the opportunity to rip into an instrumental version of “Swearin’ to God.” At its conclusion, the guys return. Frankie is now sporting a leather patterned jacket with a black silk pocket square. The Four Seasons have exchanged their shirts and ties for V-neck t-shirts.
The few minutes offstage revved them into overdrive. They dove into several covers of classic golden hits, starting with “Silence is Golden.”
The energy rose onstage through each of the next dozen songs. One hit after another. The audience ate it up like gourmet fondue.
Then, with “Bye, Bye, Baby (Baby Goodbye)” and “Let’s Hang On,” the show was over.
Hump Day was never so much fun!
Running Time: One hour and five minutes, with no intermission.
Frankie Vallie and The Four Seasons performed on Wednesday, October 15, 2014 at the Music Center at Strathmore – 5301 Tuckerman Lane, in Bethesda, Maryland. Tonight’s show – on October 16, 2014 at 8 PM – is, as was last night’s show – Sold Out! For future events, check the Strathmore’s events calendar.
Frankie Valli’s website.