Home to both Dallas’ local basketball and ice hockey teams between 1980 and 2008 (the Dallas Mavericks and Dallas Stars, respectively), the 18,000-seat Reunion Hall mostly functioned as a sports stadium during its 28-year lifetime. There were occasions, though, when it was used as a concert venue, playing host to some of the biggest names from the worlds of rock and pop, among them Queen, Black Sabbath, Michael Jackson, and Madonna. For many, however, the most momentous concert ever held at the hall was when Frank Sinatra – dubbed the “greatest singer of the 20th century” by esteemed US music critic Robert Christgau – graced it with his presence on Saturday, October 24, 1987.
By that time, the Hoboken singer, then a veritable living legend, was two months away from his 72nd birthday. Retirement, though, was seemingly not on his mind. 1987 had been a hectic year, with frequent concerts in the US and even a trip to Italy in June. The Dallas show followed a performance in Worcester, Massachusetts, and preceded a week-long stint at Bally’s Grand in Las Vegas.
His voice, then, had seen a lot of action by the time he arrived at Reunion Hall in the autumn of 1987. But from the opening number – an energized, swinging version of Stevie Wonder’s “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life,” which follows an orchestral overture that weaves through a medley of career-defining favorites – Sinatra showed why he was still considered The Chairman Of The Board: his voice is in terrific shape; what it had lost in tone, it gained in character.
In terms of his set, the Dallas concert offered something different from Sinatra’s usual fare. Dropping signature songs such as “I Get A Kick Out Of You,” “Come Fly With Me” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” in favor of slower, more reflective tunes, what the audience got instead were some of the less-heralded songs from Sinatra’s back pages, among them “You Will Be My Music” (from his 1973 LP, Ol’ Blue Eyes Is Back) and the lovely “When Joanna Loved Me.”
The latter is just one of several sublime ballads performed during the Dallas concert, which also includes a Gordon Jenkins-arranged take of David Gates’ 70s soft-rock ballad “If” and “What’s New” (“a sad but beautiful song”, says Sinatra) complete with swooning strings. Even more remarkable as a ballad performance is “My Heart Stood Still,” which Sinatra introduces as “one of the best love stories that anyone could speak or sing.” Here, he’s at his storytelling best and his final long note is a marvel of technique and expression, especially for a man approaching 72.
Despite the fact that the 1987 Dallas concert found Sinatra focusing more on ballads, there were still some memorable moments of finger-clicking uptempo songs. His version of Kurt Weill’s “Mack The Knife” is delivered with a cool sense of panache while the crowd favorite “The Lady Is A Tramp,” served up at the concert’s climax, showed that Sinatra could still swing with aplomb.
Though some of the songs from the Reunion Hall gig had appeared on official releases (including a 1995 compilation called Sinatra 80th: Live In Concert), the performance wasn’t released in its entirety until earlier in 2018 as the third CD in the box set Standing Room Only. Now we can hear why the Dallas concert has been regarded so highly by Sinatraphiles who have clamored for its release for many years. Though it captures Sinatra in the twilight of his years, he’s still shining brightly. His performance during the 20-song show paints a vivid portrait of a 71-year-old singer who is patently still in love with what he does and is prepared to go “all the way” to make sure his fans head home happy. Who could ask for more?