“Make a noise if you haven’t seen us before!” Francesco Castelluccio’s reedy tone cries out to Leeds’s First Direct Arena. He waits a beat, before dropping his punchline: “Where the hell were you?”
Mere days shy of his 83rd birthday, Frankie Valli remains an age-defying enigma. A slow and fragile figure at first glance, there is a fear that this is a man on a revue tour from Vegas; but over 100 minutes, he rattles off nearly two-dozen songs with the vim of a man 30 years his junior in a performance that feels anything but a retirement party.
Returned to the limelight a decade ago with the success of Jersey Boys, the musical based upon his extensive discography, Valli clearly relishes this second wind.
Dressed in all-black, silver bouffant resplendent, he rarely stops moving all night; his new, younger cookie-cutter incarnation of the Four Seasons have to encourage him to remain still behind the microphone for the lushly harmonised Silence is Golden – which he cheekily dedicates to “your current political season”.
That aside, he ambles with the louche grace of a sixties showman from side-to-side on stage. His voice, now thinner, can still scale the notes of his falsetto; though slow to start on Who Loves You, it is in fine form for the burnished East Coast pop sound of Working My Way Back to You, and by the time of Beggin’ he is clearly having a ball.
Four Seasons aside, the eight-piece band behind him – under musical director Robbie Robertson – are elastic and limber, capable of turning from the surging rock throb of The Night to the grooving dancefloor of Grease on a dime.
Solo spots for the musicians come in an extended Swearin’ to God; the backing singers get to trade lead vocal cues on the joyous strut of December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night) whilst their frontman takes a backseat.
But Valli remains the centre of attraction, and rightfully so.
Peppered with warm anecdotes about Sinatra and cheeky digs at the state of modern music – “how do you even make love to this?” – his stage patter is as enjoyable as his hits, of which he delivers an onslaught to close, including Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, Sherry and Big Girls Don’t Cry.
“We love you Leeds, yeah!” he shouts triumphantly to wild applause during closer Let’s Hang On!; the feeling is assuredly mutual.