Frank Sinatra and Las Vegas. They go together like gin and vermouth. Though both are potent on their own, stir them up and you have the entertainment equivalent of a perfect martini--swinging and cool, with a kick, in the most Cole Porter sense of the word.
Spanning three decades, this generous Four-Disc set captures Ol' Blue Eyes on stage in Glitter Gulch, holding court in all his glory.
Disc One was recorded at the Sands in 1961. He hadn't yet loosened his tie to the point where the stage was his living room, but his voice more than makes up for any lack of audience interaction or ring-a-ding-ding hijinks. It's mostly straight musical performance here, mixing signature tunes such as "You Make Me Feel So Young" and "The Lady Is A Tramp" with lesser-known standards like "Here's That Rainy Day" and "Don't Cry Joe." Frank's vocal embellishments are restrained. On the Spanish-flavored ballad "The Moon Was Yellow," he throws in asides like "Olé, olé and all that other jazz" and on "Imagination," he flirts with the five-syllable word, parsing it in funny ways. The side ends with an interview excerpt of Frank talking about segregation in Nevada: "In short, I loathe bigotry of any kind," he says.
Disc Two finds him at the Sands in 1966, with backing from Count Basie and Quincy Jones. This is the year of the classic Sinatra At The Sands album. But the recordings here are all previously unavailable. By this point, Sinatra was the hottest ticket in town and he reveled in it. There's an eight-minute monologue with dated jokes mostly about drinking ("Dean Martin falls in the street a lot, so he wears curb feelers instead of cuff links"). There's a little extra ham in the songs too, as on "I've Got A Crush On You" where Frank deliberately muffs lines, for yucks. But when he gets down to business, watch out. The supremely swingin' "I've Got You Under My Skin" and melancholic "September Of My Years" remind you why he was the premiere vocalist of the 20th century.
Discs Three and Four are shows from 1982 and '87, respectively. While the Chairman's voice lost some of its suppleness and range, he more than compensated with his method acting ability to turn lyrics into monologues. Especially affecting are ballads like "Hey Look, No Crying," "Angel Eyes," and the heartbreaking "Spring Is Here." Frank's patter became more serious too. Waxing poetic about songwriters and arrangers on each number, he subtly emphasized that he couldn't work his magic without some help.
Sinatra always referred to the Vegas rooms as "saloons." "Carnegie Hall once a year is fine, but the saloons are better," he says. "They're very relaxed and you can have a little booze between tunes."
Pull up a chair and join the best saloon singer who ever was. • Bill DeMain