Valli Scales the Heights

Who: Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons

What: Greatest Hits Tour 2017

Where: Bournemouth International Centre

When: 21st April 2017

A few years ago if you’d asked the average man on the street in the UK to name the legends of rock’n’roll, he would have begun with Elvis Presley and the Beatles but he might not have ever got to Frankie Valli or the Four Seasons. Since then a musical called “Jersey Boys” has become a phenomenon on Broadway and in the West End.

Now people’s awareness of how many great songs Valli and Seasons’ writer, Bob Gaudio are responsible for, has increased beyond recognition. And Valli and his current band, who were once reduced to playing medium-sized venues, are now back in the big leagues as a live draw.

Calling this current tour a Greatest Hits Tour is largely unnecessary because in reality that has always been the Seasons’ way of performing – particularly over these last few years and there is a smattering of album tracks – even if the majority of them were hits for someone else.

If you have seen Mr Valli on tour before, you’ll find no great departures. The show opens with a “film reel” of memorable moments of his career. Four backing vocalists are still part of the band which gives everything that “Jersey Boys” look. And Robby Robinson (who has been with Frankie for nearly thirty years to my knowledge) is at the helm as musical director, chief keyboardist and captain of the ship.

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Robby Robinson – musical director

And the ship is on a smooth journey but it is Mr Valli who is the star in every sense. He is more confident in his vocal performance than he was twenty years ago and he hits all the falsetto notes with consummate ease and his lower register is in good order too. Not bad for a man who most sources acknowledge will not see eighty again.

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The show proper opens with a rousing rendition of the 1975 hit, “Who Loves You” before moving into “Working My Way Back to You” which many UK music listeners will remember equally for the Detroit Spinners cover as well as the original Seasons’ recording.

Neither “Save it For Me” or “Dawn (Go Away)” were UK hits for the 4 Seasons but this is partially where the Jersey Boys factor kicks in as everyone here seems to have seen the show and then checked out an Anthology album and these songs are just as warmly received as items that were Top 10 hits on these shores.

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In addition, the venue management and tour organisers have made the wise decision to reserve the front rows of the sold out venue for members of Valli’s UK fan club and that is a guaranteed way to build up the atmosphere.

“I’ve Got You Under My Skin” is Frankie’s opportunity to pay tribute to another Frank – Mr Sinatra. This Cole Porter composition is here partially made up of the Four Seasons arrangement which was a hit here in September of 1966 but also includes the horn-led instrumental arrangement which Sinatra’s earlier version depended on. The instrumental breaks are excellent and show that this band are no slouches whilst also allowing the diminutive lead vocalist a little moment to catch his breath.

“Beggin'” has become one of the Four Seasons’ best known songs in the UK, despite the fact that it was largely ignored here when originally released. In 2007, it was a hit in 2 forms – by the hip hop band, Madcon and then with a remixed version of the original Frankie and the Seasons recording. Here, Keith Hubacher propels the song with a tight bassline.

Time to slow things down, as we’re not even at the mid-point yet. “My Eyes Adored You” was a number 5 hit here and a no. 1 in the USA. This lovely ballad allows Valli to show the rich depths of his non-falsetto voice as he extends notes playfully. Quite beautiful.

There was a time when “Tell it to the Rain” looked like it might be the last Seasons’ Top 40 single hit in the UK, scraping into the forty in early ’67. As it worked out, the band was returned to the singles charts some eight years later but that is another story. This rendition opens with a loud roll of thunder which threatens to rock the whole theatre. Luckily, this is only a sample from the sound effects desk not a full-scale storm like the one Bournemouth underwent the night of the last time the 4 Seasons played here in 2015.

(see my review: https://twilightdawning.com/2015/07/11/oh-what-a-night/ )

Next up is a bright version of “Opus 17” before we head into another Valli solo ballad, “Fallen Angel” which is one of a couple of songs here which were hits in the UK but overlooked in Frankie’s home nation.

Valli takes a moment to credit composer Barry Gibb as he heads into another USA number one, “Grease”, from the musical of the same name. This pastiche of the fifties echoes the era where Frankie’s music comes from and he make this quite clear at the conclusion when in order to introduce a medley of songs from his covers album “Romancing the Sixties”, he undertakes a rap/hip-hop thing which he pulls off with remarkable aplomb.

The covers are much more in keeping with the Seasons’ normal repertoire than that – “Spanish Harlem”, “My Girl” and the Young Rascals’ “Groovin'”. All fit in well the general feel of tonight’s concert and are lapped up by the enthusiastic audience.

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Rick Keller – saxophones and flute

It’s now time to allow more space for the band to flex their muscles. “Swearing to God” has a great sax solo from Rick Keller, followed by a keyboard break by Mr Robinson and culminates in some great guitar licks from lead guitarist Larry Esparza.

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Larry Esparza – lead guitar

Some tight harmonies on the Gaudio composition “Silence is Golden” (a number one hit here in the note-for-note cover by the Tremeloes) sees the four vocalists and dancers, Brandon Brigham, Brian Brigham, Todd Fournier, and Jason Martinez join Frankie at the centre-front of the stage.

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“Silence is Golden”

The second hit that the UK audience took to their hearts but which was never a hit in the U.S.A. was “The Night” from the album “Chameleon” which took about three years to make it into the UK charts after becoming a dance floor favourite in the Northern Soul movement. It also has the distinction of being the only Seasons hit to be a hit for Soft Cell. Again, it is bassist Keith Hubacher who drives this one.

The old Maurice Williams hit “Stay” is fleshed out by some very fulsome keyboard work by Robby which earns great appreciation from the crowd.

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Last time the Seasons were in the UK, long time guitarist, Larry Lingle had been persuaded back into the fold. Larry has since gone back into retirement but another alumni, Bill Deloach who was in the band in the early seventies, is back in the fold on 2nd keyboards and rhythm guitar.

“December 1963 (Oh, What a Night)” once again presses the 4 backing vocalists into action as they cover the vocal sections originally handled by Gerry Polci and Don Ciccone with Frankie continuing in the role he had in the original recording. We continue to build through the best known songs (even if Andy Williams stole the UK hit on this next Gaudio composition) with “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You”.

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And then it is time to explore the very earliest of the band’s hits.

First there is a largely acapella version of “Sherry” followed by “Walk Like A Man”, and “Big Girls Don’t Cry”. By now the whole venue is rocking and right up into the rafters women of a certain age are swaying their arms in time.

Last of the main set is “Bye Bye, Baby” which became a huge hit for the tartan-clad Bay City Rollers some ten years after the original version.

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Encores? Indeed. “Rag Doll” and “Let’s Hang On” hit the right spot and a brave security man stops those who want to shake hands with Frankie from becoming too big a crowd. They seem to be aged from 12 to rather a lot older and several go away with tears in their eyes.

Well, an amazing night and every sign that Mr Valli will be on the top of his game for the rest of the UK tour… and hopefully for many years to come.

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