…in the house Sinatra built

A couple of months back, I was presented with the opportunity to catch Robert Davi’s headline act last Friday night at the Venetian and jumped at the chance.

Experiencing Robert’s passion play On The Road To Romance tribute to Frank Sinatra in any venue would be great. Getting a chance to see him perform on the hallowed ground that once was the Sands Copa Room — now the Venetian Showroom — was just too good to pass up.

As high as my expectations were for this gig, I have to say that I was overwhelmed … blown away by Davi’s performance.

I’ve listened to Robert many times before from the Davi Sings Sinatra – On the Road to Romance LP, but seeing him perform with his great stage band  — pouring out his passion for Frank’s music, the man and the Rat Pack era through these wonderful ballads was special.

Especially in this place…

This place — the playground of Sinatra, the Rat Pack and their many friends during the Summit years. It may have a new, fresh face but when Robert took the stage and pushed into his classic Sinatra set list you could feel Frank and his gang in the room … in the ether. It was a special evening.

Joey Bishop wasn’t there…

…but Mike Marino was in rare form with his “Jersey Bad Boy” stand-up act and he warmed the audience up for Robert nicely. They finally convinced Mike to get off by closing the curtain on him (jokingly … I think!).

Robin Leach (who recently did a great interview for the Las Vegas Sun with RD on his foray back to singing and Sinatra) did a very nice recorded intro as the band struck up and Robert hit the stage with “I’ve Got The World On A String” … then quickly moved to a wonderful rendition of “Nice and Easy”.

Those two song titles seemed to capture the essence for the evening that was to follow … a confident guy employing his powerful, yet relaxed style and rich baritone vocals on some of the best music and lyrics ever written.

As RD moved about the stage delivering Sinatra’s classic hits, it became clear that this actor-turned-singer was plying the skills that underpinned his long and successful film/TV career to great effect.

Robert doesn’t imitate Sinatra, but RD’s ability to comprehend Sinatra as a three dimensional “character” instills a round, period genuineness to his act that comfortably settles over you during the performance.

The small turn of a hand here, a sideways glance there … Robert Davi is his own man with a distinctive resonant vocal style and a singular charisma, but he embodies just the right amount of Sinatra affectation in his vocal timing, phrasing and stagecraft to support a uniquely passionate delivery of Frank’s classic work. He tells the stories in these songs the way I remember Frank telling them.

That Rat Pack feeling…

Act One (my term, just the first mini-set of songs) of the evening came to an end after Robert rolled through excellent Cole Porter and Johnny Mercer tunes — “At Long Last Love” and “Day In, Day Out” respectively.

The audience was apparently peppered with friends and supporters there to see his Vegas debut and RD took a little time out to introduce some of the special guests in the room … he touched on several film/TV friends, the very talented Vegas homeboy Dennis Bono and best of all for me … Deana Martin and her husband John!

I have really taken to Deana in her own right (musically of course ;-)) but if you’ve spent any time here, you know how much her dad Dean meant to me and mine so at this point the Rat Pack quotient is running high and I didn’t think things could get much better …

That is until Robert tripped down an awesome selection of songs off his set list … highlighted by stellar versions of “You Make Me Feel So Young”, Sammy Cahn’s “Come Fly With Me”, “A Foggy Day”, and two beautifully evocative songs (from an evening rich like butter with great songs) that lay perfect for RD’s vocal style and deft stagecraft  — “Luck Be A Lady” and “Witchcraft”. The full set list is detailed below, but I’ll warn you now that the “review” aspect is pretty boring with no song coming in below +++.

Sinatra, the man…

The evening was first order a tribute to the music and song that Frank brought to the world. But Robert was lucky enough to meet and work with Sinatra and offered glimpses of Frank Sinatra’s more personal contributions to the industry and society — particularly Frank’s gutsy stands against racism and anti semitism.

There was nothing preachy or overbearing … just rounding out “the man” that was Sinatra and setting the backdrop for a timely and redolent version of “The House I Live in”. A song often passed by as kitsch was set up and delivered beautifully.

The band Elwood, the band…

I can’t overstate the part that the great stage band had in the evenings success. First of all, Robert has been able to gather some of Sinatra’s band guys for this tour … guys like Pat Longo (sax/clarinet), Randy Waldman (piano and musical director) and most notably Emil Richards (vibraphone) who did a bunch of studio work and toured with Sinatra for about 15 years.

The cool and “experienced” horns/winds section was counter-balanced on stage by Anna Stadlman on bass and a bevy of lovely young lady strings practitioners. Visually they had sort of a cool side/hot side thing going on up there … all I know is that together they sounded fabulous.

The production values that Phil Ramone and Dan Wallin brought to Nic tenBroek’s great charts on the Davi Sings Sinatra: On the Road to Romance
LP were well preserved by the wonderful stage band this evening.

A Labour of Love…

A term too often tossed around in this business but it couldn’t be more apt with respect to Robert Davi’s singing pursuit. His passion for this music is pronounced. RD certainly doesn’t NEED to do this, and I get no sense of vanity or exploitation here.

Steeped in the middle of a hugely successful film and TV acting career, Davi’s still a young guy in the business, and I’m sure he has a lot left to offer the acting and directing trades … in many ways this music chase is a distraction.

Therein lies the passion … watching Davi overcome the distraction aspect to his acting career and openly pursue his first love — singing — with such verve, respect and honor for Frank, his counterparts and the arrangers/writers of the era … it’s quite compelling.

I’m a lucky man…

…on many levels to be sure, but with respect to the evening with RD I think I was incredibly lucky to catch his On The Road To Romance show in Las Vegas last week. We’re just at the beginning of Robert Davi’s singing career, and I suspect in years to come he will play Vegas and a myriad of other great venues around the world.

But there will only be one debut for Robert at the Copa … er, the Venetian Showroom … Frank’s domain … the Summit. It would have been a special night anywhere, but there is no place more special than this place … for this music … sung and performed this well.

Thanks Robert … all the best!

Set List from Robert Davi Sings Sinatra at The Venetian Showroom (2/24/2012 -Las Vegas)

(VS_Guy ratings: “+++” pluses are good; “~” for meh to middling;  “- – -” minuses are not good)

* Songs from Davi Sings Sinatra; On The Road To Romance LP

  1. I’ve Got The World On A String * +++ (great lead in displaying RD and the band in full measure )
  2. Nice and Easy * ++++ (lays perfect for Robert’s vocal style and he knocked it out of the park)
  3. At Long Last Love (Cole Porter) +++ One of Porter’s best … very nice tonight
  4. Day In Day Out * (Johnny Mercer) +++ Mercer is the man and Davi does him up right
  5. You Make Me Feel So Young ++++ the classic “Frank” flow is in full force at this point
  6. Come Fly With Me (Sammy Kahn) ++++ … Fabulous Sinatra-esk timing and phrasing
  7. A Foggy Day (Gershwin) ++++ …stagecraft and story telling is really coming out
  8. Moonlight In Vermont +++ Sung by EVERYONE and one of my favorites … well done here
  9. Luck Be A Lady (Frank Loesser) ++++ perfect for Davi’s vocal style and rendered perfectly
  10. Witchcraft * ++++ …strong with the Sinatra force
  11. Summer Wind * (Mercer) +++ …Sinatra timing and phrasing
  12. Just One of Those Things +++ …great job on the original exhausting tempo Nelson Riddle arrangement
  13. When I Was Seventeen ++ not my favorite number — sort of depressing to me — but really nice job by RD
  14. The House I Live In +++ very nice interpretation of this oft overlooked patriotic Sinatra song
  15. The Best Is Yet To Come * (Cy Coleman) +++
  16. Angle Eyes +++ Sinatra’s quintessential saloon number … staged and sung great
  17. That’s Life ++++ awesome … evoking Frank perfectly
  18. Fly Me To The Moon +++ awash in Sinatra and loving it!
  19. I’ve Got You Under My Skin (Cole Porter) +++
  20. New York, New York ++++ just a superb job RD!