REVIEW: Frank Sinatra Jr. does it his way in baffling casino show

Is there anyone in the entertainment world who carries a moniker with greater baggage than Frank Sinatra Jr.?

There are other giants of 20th century music whose sons have had successful careers – Bob Dylan’s son Jakob, John Lennon’s sons  Sean and Julian – but they never had to carry around not just a famous last name, but a famous first name as well, perhaps the best known name in the history of popular music.

But Frank Jr., who brought himself and his big band to the River Cree Casino Saturday night, has come to terms with his legacy. Not a hit maker, not a songwriter, not a star, Frank Jr. is what he is – the singing son of the most iconic singer in history.

Frank Jr. bears a striking resemblance to the Chairman of the Board, the Later Years. If you put a bad silver toupee on him, you wouldn’t be able to tell them apart. Vocally, Junior at times sounds pretty much exactly like Ol’ Blue Eyes, or at least as I would imagine the old, fading Sinatra would have sounded.

Moving his bulky frame somewhat laboriously around the stage, Sinatra Jr. was backed by a tuxedoed, 20-piece big band of old pros (emphasis on the old) that included a 12-man horn section. That allowed Junior to perform almost note-perfect recreations of Senior’s most recognizable hits; I’ve Got You Under My Skin, Summer Wind, Fly Me To The Moon, Strangers in the Night (a song he hated, Sinatra told the audience), New York, New York.

And why not duplicate the songs note or note? The arrangements, by greats like Nelson Riddle and Count Basie, are some of the most familiar in popular music history. In between songs, Sinatra was easy going and often quite funny, telling self-deprecating jokes about himself: Other singers had their concerts reviewed in Billboard and Cashbox, he said, while his were reviewed in Guns and Ammo; and sharing stories about being on the road with the old man.

But there were odd choices. While the Sinatra catalogue is almost bottomless, Junior began the concert with a handful of non-Sinatra songs, and even threw in a little Dean Martin impression. When he finally got to his father’s catalogue, he reached back to the 1940s for a couple of tunes that were, judging from the crowd reaction, virtually unknown today. And when he launched into the meat of the show, with Frank Senior’s epic run in the 1950s and 1960s, he didn’t sing You Can’t Take That Away from Me, It’s Witchcraft, That’s Life, Come Fly With Me and (my choice for Frank’s greatest song) It Was A Very Good Year. Certainly most baffling, he ended the concert with only one line from My Way, senior’s signature song.

Despite a prolonged standing ovation, Sinatra did not return for an encore, leaving the audience just a little baffled.

In an interview with the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper last month, the 68-year-old singer was asked about the level of success he has achieved. He gave a rueful, but honest, answer.

“Yes, but does it really constitute actual success?” Sinatra said. “Over all these years, I have never had a hit movie, never had a hit television program and never had a hit record. To my way of thinking, that means success has not been achieved. I have made no mark of my own creation. This is something to be considered.

“My lack of success does not trouble me at this stage in my life, no,” he told the Guardian. “When I was younger, sure, I wanted to have some degree of, shall we say, identity. But it never came.”

But hey, there are a lot worse things to be in life than a guy who sings classic versions of great songs.