All the Arts, All the Time
Music review: Seth MacFarlane at Club Nokia
By Richard S. Ginell
March 27, 2011 | 12:30 pm
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Everybody repeat after me: There will never be another Frank Sinatra. But Seth MacFarlane –- whose reach across 21st century pop culture as writer, producer, director, actor and creator of “Family Guy,” “The Cleveland Show” and “American Dad!” is, in its way, as ambitious as Sinatra’s was in his time –- can’t resist the temptation to put himself in The Chairman’s shoes now and then.
Seth And MacFarlane doesn’t fool around. His show at Club Nokia on Saturday night was as meticulous an attempt to re-create the conditions, circa 1956, in which a Sinatra could flourish as one can find nowadays.
The repertoire was the Great and Not-So-Great American Songbook, dating from the 1940s into the 1960s and up to a present-day attempt by MacFarlane and his conductor Joel McNeely to emulate that style. The band was a crisp, well-drilled, 39-piece big band-with-strings composed of top studio players, driven by the über-swinging jazz rhythm team of Chuck Berghofer (bass) and Peter Erskine (drums).
The superb charts, arranged by McNeely, were right out of the Nelson Riddle playbook (with streaks of Gordon Jenkins and Billy May, too) –- suave, punching, a pleasure to hear. The sound was surprisingly good –- high fidelity, not too loud. Antiquarian Michael Feinstein lent his authority to the act, introducing MacFarlane.
Yet MacFarlane was also savvy enough to separate himself from the colossus Sinatra in his choice of material, steering clear of Frank’s patented vehicles, veering toward dark horses. Rather than the usual chestnuts from “The Sound of Music,” MacFarlane went for Richard Rodgers’ solo contribution, “Something Good,” and gave it his most heartfelt vocal of the night. Same thing for “The Music Man”; MacFarlane plugged the clever, strangely overlooked “The Sadder-But-Wiser Girl.”
There’s no doubt that MacFarlane has the pipes –- a resonant, in-tune baritone, and a credible way of bending the vocal line ever so slightly so that he is not merely singing notes. As one might expect from his day job, he has excellent comic timing –- and apart from a truly tasteless joke about Japan, got off a few good ones. He also works comfortably with a partner, trading lines with singer Sara Bareilles in “Two Sleepy People” and “Love Won’t Let You Get Away.” All his delivery needs is some more loosely swinging swagger, and he’ll fly with a band like this.
The show was recorded for September release in umpteen media formats. Expect several cuts.