By Jack Houston
Things are looking up at the Stratosphere, and not just because the hotel’s tower looms nearly 1,000 feet over the Strip. Frankie Moreno and his nine-piece band are one of the most dynamic musical experiences in a city full of them, a mix of Rat Pack swagger, earnest pop songwriting and some of the hardest boozing this side of a Nick Nolte mug shot.
Moreno, a singer and multi-instrumentalist, is a bandleader and ringleader all at once, switching from piano to guitar to harmonica and descending into the crowd mid-set to pour shots of Crown Royal for fans. His original tunes, even if you’ve never heard them before, seem instantly familiar: “Tangerine Honey” or “I Betcha” could easily fit in alongside Michael Bublé’s latest. Other songs, such as the swirling, Middle Eastern-sounding “Black Mascara,” deviate from that template.
His backing band, which includes brother Tony on bass among horns and strings, is routinely on point, punctuating a fresh arrangement of “Mack the Knife” or going all out on a set-closing “Eleanor Rigby,” a version Moreno recorded with violinist Joshua Bell on an album that also featured the likes of Sting, Josh Groban, Chris Botti and Regina Spektor. There’s much levity among the music though, as Moreno frequently jokes with his bandmates and the crowd, making for an altogether intimate experience. But best believe when it comes to the music, he’s all business.