Thicker than the mist rising from Niagara Falls, a heavy helping of schmaltz hangs over the Cataract City this weekend as Canadian-reared crooner Gino Vannelli began a three-night show Friday night in Seneca Niagara Casino’s Bear’s Den Showroom.
The intimate 440-seat room was dotted with doting dames but overall not quite two-thirds full, suggesting that the extended stay and $70-plus seats might have been a bit much; also a bit much is the new home of the will call counter, which was moved in June from just outside the room to egregiously far across the casino. Once in, though, it’s a wonderful room with superb sound.
As for Vannelli’s sound, which earned him seven Juno Awards among 20 nominations between 1975 and 1993, it could be described as elevator funk with a bent for jazz and bedroom eyes, and fully restored after a scary onstage ear injury just last year. The 60-yer-old’s flair for theatrics was made clear from the get-go, as after his seven-piece band took the stage, recorded sounds of wind and rain preceded his arrival, the real versions of which would be no match for his barely-grayed afro-mullet mane. The firmness of his hair was eclipsed only by that of his voice, as the opening “Fly into This Night,” off of his 1976 album “The Gist of the Gemini,” saw an intro driven by tense mallet work of drummer Reinhardt Melz kick into a sturdy strut as Vannelli spanned the spectrum from soft and deep to soaring falsetto, including a melody strikingly similar to Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” but delivered, as most of the show was, with complete and calculated control.
Throughout the set, Vannelli glided around the stage with gusto and snapped, clapped and pointed about like a happy hot-shot endeared to this very element. “A Little Bit of Judas,” off of his 1995 release “Yonder Tree,” brought out his jazzy side between spot-on vocals and a crackerjack three-part horn section of saxophonist Patrick Lamb flanked by local ringers Jim Bohm (trumpet) and Dave DeWitt (trombone). The song also displayed Vannelli’s oft-used, curious combination of religious and sultry lyrical styling, most evident in “Rock Me to Heaven,” which featured further head-scratching thanks to a recorded track of six-layered female backing vocals.
“Wild Horses” showed Vannelli’s voice to be a fortified vehicle, although the preceding 1981 Top Ten hit “Living Inside Myself” could be driven into a standoff situation and placed on repeat to achieve resolution.
His 1978 lone #1 hit “I Just Wanna Stop” again got the crowd up and this time singing along, which some did all the way out as the devout declared they’d be back for more over the weekend, as it remains Gino Time through Sunday.