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Twilight of the God

One final round (maybe) for the last romantic, Frank Sinatra

Part of the not insignificant joy of employment as a music writer is getting to see new and unproven acts when they're still young and hungry, and the corresponding smugness that comes later -- when the same act has made the leap to broad popularity -- and you're able to say you saw their shows way back when, before mass adoration sullied the glow. Another part of the joy lies in claiming the job-subsidized perk of seeing the classic acts -- those performers long considered legendary, whose infrequent performances or stratospheric ticket prices make attendance unlikely in any other circumstance.

And so it was with full appreciation of the luck of my situation that I attended the second of Frank Sinatra's two Houston performances at Jones Hall. I, like much of that night's audience, was seeing Sinatra sing live for the first time, and with full knowledge that I'll probably never get another chance. At age 78, Ol' Blue Eyes is dipping his head in vats of Silver Fox with great frequency these days, and even if he did recently record the most successful album of his career (Duets), and even if he is said to be at work on that albumÕs similarly conceived follow-up, there's not much point in hoping that the standard bearer of American popular vocal music will be back through town. The well-heeled audience in attendance Wednesday night must have sensed as much, or else was (justifiably) overwhelmed by the man's commanding presence, because they gave no less than three rousing ovations to a performance that saw Sinatra rudely barking at his bandleader son, Frank Jr., squinting through most of the set at one of four teleprompters, halting one song mid-intro because he got lost and flubbing the lyrics on multiple occasions, most notably during the beyond-classics "My Way" and "New York, New York." The question of how a man can forget the not particularly complex lines to dual showstoppers he must have performed thousands upon thousands of times over the years, even with the help of teleprompters, isn't, oddly enough, an issue. What mattered more was that in "New York, New York," Sinatra finally hit, for one abbreviated moment, the sort of peak on which his reputation is based. Combine that with the accumulated charisma and authority that comes from a lifetime like Sinatra's (and an absolutely crack orchestra), and you've got a showstopper yet again. Nobody in the audience expected Sinatra to be in peak voice, and nobody expects that he'll ever provide more than a shadow of his former glories. All anyone expected was that he'd stand up there on stage and be Frank Sinatra. For that simple task, he was amply rewarded, and even I had to admit that the spectacle was well worth the time it took to wrap myself up in my best suit for the occasion. But I had to wonder if any among the current crop of performers -- having weathered the fluctuations of career and style, not to mention the almost total erosion of skills -- will be able to stand in front of an audience and receive a radiating cloud of unconditional love? And will we really be missing anything if the answer turns out to be no?

The Continuing Saga of the Little Club that Couldn't... Rumors of Harvey's' demise are exaggerated, but not by much. Two Fridays ago, Harvey's Club Deluxe hosted a show that should have fallen somewhere between a good night and a resounding success. Matador Records' critics' darlings Unsane headlined a show with Japan's Ruins and two opening acts. It was the kind of bill that should have packed Harvey's to its un-airconditioned gills, but as it happened, a mere thirty of the faithful and curious turned out. Now, every club has its bad nights, unexpected and otherwise, but this particular bad night proved to be that proverbial last straw that broke the back of the eastside club that's struggled through past incarnations as the Axiom and Catal Huyuk. According to frustrated ten-year leaseholder Richard Lyders, "We've just been miserable failures. We are obviously failures at it and we don't know why."

Leave the question of why for another day (though speculation about bad location, erratic booking quality and substandard promotional efforts won't fall far from the mark), the result is, as Lyders reports, a club that's now "90 percent shut down." Tuesday night poetry slams, despite offering a $50 prize to winners, haven't drawn so much as flies since Lollapalooza came and went, and if they continue, it won't be at Harvey's. The plan, according to Lyders, is to open the warehouse district venue one night a week, probably Friday, to multi-bills of local bands, giving the door take to the bands and keeping the bar take for the club. Just how such a modest scheme might help pull Harvey's out of its financial doldrums remains unclear, but Lyders, who's obligated one way or another to pay rent on that dilapidated building for the next nine years, isn't ready to call it a complete wash, despite a general mood of surrender amongst club personnel and investors. "We'll try it for another week or two, see what happens," says Lyder. Predictions, anyone?

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