Devouring the five-disc box set "Sinatra: Vegas," one is reminded that Frank Sinatra was not just a singer. He was an Entertainer, with a capital E. Such albums as "In the Wee Small Hours" and "Songs for Swingin' Lovers!" established him as a vocalist for the ages, but his legendary stands in Sin City cemented his reputation as an A-list showman.
"Vegas" collects CDs of concerts from 1961 and 1966 at the Sands, 1982 at Caesars Palace, and 1987 at the Golden Nugget, plus a DVD of a 1978 show at Caesars Palace.
The DVD is a gem. There are reams of Sinatra records, but to watch him do his act -- black tie affixed just so, glass of bourbon never leaving his right hand -- takes the experience to another level. It's a terrific show whose climax includes a smashing "My Way" and a rousing rendition of "America the Beautiful." "Send in the Clowns," already a downer of a song, is imbued with even more melancholy when Sinatra delays his delivery of some lines, which he sings-talks his way through.
The four CDs are a veritable highlight reel, but the one from 1966 featuring Count Basie & His Orchestra is gold. The band swings like mad, giving Sinatra an ideal backdrop for "Come Fly With Me" and "My Kind of Town." Elsewhere, his wry delivery and ad libs on "The Lady Is a Tramp" and "Get Me to the Church on Time" underscore the point that Sinatra was an interpreter of song. And try not to smile during "Somethin' Stupid," a duet with his daughter Nancy from the 1982 show during which the younger Sinatra gets a case of the giggles.
For all the terrific music, it is Sinatra's monologues and comic edge that bring the shows alive and add a dimension you just can't get from his studio albums. True, you're probably going to listen to his singles collections or records like "Come Dance With Me!" way more than any box set, but "Sinatra: Vegas" reminds us there was a whole other side to the chairman.