Frankie Moreno’s Unflagging Energy Gives Audiences No Chance to Reflect

Frankie Moreno | Photo by John Knopf

Frankie Moreno | Photo by John Knopf

Visualize a runaway train plowing into a house on fire. Or visualize Frankie Moreno. Doesn’t matter which. They’re the same.

That’s where my disappointment and frustration lies.

Perhaps naively, I’d hoped Moreno—with more raw talent in his left pinkie than some global superstars can claim from head to toe—had taken even half a chill pill after his three-year Stratosphere residency ended three months ago. Maybe he’d even embraced the notion that varying a show’s tempo with occasional slower, quieter moments would give audiences a fuller emotional experience, rather than bulldoze them into submission.

Alas, no, if his Vegas re-emergence—a one-night engagement at Red Rock Casino’s Rocks Lounge last week (to be repeated April 11)—is an indicator of what he’ll bring back to town when he announces (probably soon) a new permanent room for him and his rocket launcher of a band.

As a showman he’s all muscle and sinew, no subtlety and nuance. You’ve received emails from people who type in ALL CAPS? Moreno performs in ALL CAPS. That approach earned him undeniable success, but imagining what he could offer and doesn’t is disheartening.

At Rocks, on a 1-10 energy scale, Moreno kicks off at 32 and keeps ramping up, with essentially his same Stratosphere repertoire, from Billy Preston’s “Will It Go Round in Circles” and Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish” through originals including “Somebody,” “Biggest Fan,” “Tangerine Honey” and “Diva” (with ex-Dancing With the Stars firecracker Lacey Schwimmer gyrating atop the piano). Trotting out a new tune, he sits alone at the keyboard, and the fleeting hope is for a refreshing downshift into reflection on a song he says was inspired watching a Sam Cooke documentary—but as he unleashes wall-rattling blues riffs, that hope is scuttled.

Even his “Eleanor Rigby”—reproducing the version he recorded with violinist Joshua Bell—abandons the poignancy of the Beatles’ theme of loneliness as it crescendos into a wham-bam slam dance that’s all noisy melodrama. Wherever “all the lonely people” are, they’re not in this interpretation.

Although the crowd was clearly with him, Moreno never seemed satisfied with the energy coming back at him—coaxing and cajoling for more-more-more, as if the woo-hoo! yelps over his leather-lunged power belting weren’t enough to feed a Tasmanian Devil-level appetite.

Accepting Moreno as a manic spiritual son to Jerry Lee Lewis (complete with piano gymnastics) or grandson (OK, great-great-grandson) to Al Jolson is flattering and fair. Few—if any—Vegas headliners leave it all on the stage the way he does, every drop of blood and sweat.

What about the tears? The vulnerability? The willingness to—in Roberta Flack’s words—kill us softly with a song?

Perhaps Freud would call this a fear of musical intimacy. Hopefully, in a series of concerts starting March 17 at The Smith Center’s Cabaret Jazz, the set list will reveal there’s no fear, just delayed engagement. Moreno bursts with passion. Turning some inward would touch us in a deeper, richer way.

C’mon, Frankie. Sing us a lullaby.

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