Concert Review

Richard Cheese Says Farewell to Phoenix; Phoenix Wipes Brow, Says 'Whew'

One song into Richard Cheese's Saturday show at Celebrity Theatre, I was ready to believe I'd been wrong. Sure, a guy who for nearly a decade has made a living performing sleazy lounge covers of popular songs might seem, at first glance, to be a novelty act with a short shelf life, and since this is the outfit's "farewell tour," it's possible Cheese has finally decided he's past his expiration date. But when Cheese (the stage name of Las Vegas-based actor-comedian Mark Jonathan Davis) and his backing band, Lounge Against the Machine, kicked things off with a spirited interpretation of Nine Inch Nails' "Closer," I was ready to enjoy myself.

No more than 45 minutes later, I found myself involuntarily gritting my teeth and thinking to myself, "If I wasn't reviewing this, I would have left already."

Simply put, Cheese and LATM put on a show that was equal parts embarrassing, boring and downright uncomfortable. I don't claim to be a lounge music expert (few do, I imagine), but I do know there's more than one way to sing a song in that style. And Cheese pulls material from several different genres. So why did every song sound exactly the same? Why make "Baby Got Back," probably the low point of the evening, sound exactly like "Don't Stop Believin'" (a song that provided a breath of fresh air when the band started a spot-on rendition of it, only to have Cheese stop them and say, "No, let's lounge-ify it")? And what about the larger issue of why a bunch of songs everyone already knows suddenly become hilarious when sung in a low voice and accompanied by piano and bass?

I felt these were important questions that deserved important answers. But they seemed immaterial to the 300 or so Cheese devotees -- one of whom, no joke, had one of those foam cheese hats Green Bay Packers fans wear -- at the Celebrity. It was a fairly young crowd, and you really wouldn't think they'd get so much of a kick out of a tuxedo-clad fortysomething singing words like "fuck" and "bitch" and propositioning the women in the front row, but they hooted and hollered like Focus on the Family employees at a Sarah Palin rally.

The crowd also didn't seem dissuaded by Cheese's onstage antics, which included four breaks for tuxedo changes (for no discernible reason, unless he's one of those overly sweaty people or something). Twice he feuded with the light guy ("Can you do something about these white lights right here? They're killing me"). And he directed the crowd to boo at two people who had the gall to take a photo of him with a flash -- a great way to show appreciation for one's fans, some of whom paid upwards of $100 for front-row seats.

Maybe Cheese has sensed he's milked the LATM cash cow for all it's worth, because after this tour, the band doesn't plan to tour outside Vegas anymore. Maybe he'll find himself a regular gig, with the lighting just the way he likes it, at one of the Strip's seedier hotels (is the Imperial Palace still open?), where he can delight retirees and Eastern European tourists with pro-forma covers of "Shake Ya Ass" and "Gin & Juice." Or maybe he'll finally fade into blissful obscurity. Either way, the rest of the world will be better off.

Critic's Notebook:

Last Night: Richard Cheese at Celebrity Theatre.

Better Than: Watching amateur acoustic guitar covers of the aforementioned songs on YouTube, I suppose. But not by much.

Personal Bias: The first Richard Cheese song I ever heard was Radiohead's "Creep," way back in 2000 or so. He broke out another song from my favorite band, "Airbag," on Saturday, and it was pretty much the night's only highlight.

Random Fact: The Surfside IV, a local surf music band that seems to get a lot of mentions on Up on the Sun, opened the show. They weren't bad, and had I known what was coming, I wouldn't have been so anxious for the headliner to take the stage.

Further Listening: Cheese has several studio albums out, and Celebrity employees were passing out one of them, I'd Like a Virgin, after the show. You know you want a lounge version of "Hey Ya," so post a comment and it's yours!