Gino Vannelli performing at Maryland Live! Casino in Hanover, Maryland on February 14, 2014
HANOVER, M.D. – Valentine’s Day was big at Maryland Live! Casino. The bars, the restaurants – even the elevators – had lines of nightlife enthusiasts wrapped around them.
And for the holiday of love, they had Gino Vannelli, the vastly underrated Canadian singer/songwriter made famous in the 1970s by the swooning “I Just Wanna Stop” and who spent the following decade recording the likes of “If I Should Lose This Love”, “Hurts to Be in Love”, and “Young Lover”.
You could say Vannelli knows a thing or two about the 14th of February.
But fans and industry insiders know his repertoire goes far beyond the romantic. With brothers Joe and Ross, Vannelli has built a 40 year career on everything from R&B to rock and world music to straight-up pop.
His gravitas is immediately evident when he emerges on stage. Trademark curly black hair and a striking gaze, he might have just walked off the album cover of his seminal 1985 work ‘Black Cars’. At 61, Vannelli looks closer to half his age and performs that way too.
He uses the small stage as his playground, opening his arms into dramatic, sweeping movements when not kept at the microphone.
When he sings, the same voice so easily distinguishable in pop music stops the room.
It is the kind of full-bodied sound that talent scouts would scour dive bars and nightclubs to find during the era when vocal acrobatics mattered in the music industry.
Vannelli has not lost his prized instrument, nor has he lost a certain gleam in his eye when telling a career story. Between songs, he confided in the crowd a stalking adventure from his hungry years involving Herb Alpert.
“He was clearly shocked when I grabbed him,” he said of the Tijuana Brass bandleader.
Some 40 years later, Vannelli and Alpert are peers in the category of legendary 20th century entertainers.
Now the show moves in a more familiar direction, with “Black Cars” bridging the gap into a second half of the set which would exceed even the high bar set by the first.
All he could do is smile as he sang one of the most technically perfect pieces of pop music composed in the 1980s with its double entendre as cutting now as it was then.
“Under the cover of night / She crawls into sight … Black cars / Look better in the shade”
Vannelli’s brilliant vocal delivery is augmented by a top-notch backing band including a horn section to provide the lush sound heard on his studio recordings.
The latin howl of “Persona Non Grata” and unmistakable darkness of “Nightwalker” were delivered with irresistible precision.
“Brother to Brother” was the faux-closer. The 7 minute mix of heart-stopping vocals and driving instrumentals is quintessential Vannelli – plenty of opportunities to showcase his singing ability while at the same time displaying his strength as an arranger.
It was more familiar territory when he re-emerged to bring the crowd to their feet for “People Gotta Move”, a song so catchy it’s hard to fathom why it doesn’t receive the same airplay as its mid-70s counterparts.
Gino Vannelli has never chosen the most obvious or popular path to stardom, but he’s achieved it nonetheless.
Tour dates and more can be found at www.GinoV.com.