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July 23, 2014

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A healthy dose of new Vegas, and it looks nothing like The King

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Trent Carlini.

Old Vegas collided with New Vegas last night, and an Elvis tribute act on the Strip was dwarfed by a guy who doesn’t sing, doesn’t play an instrument and is so unassuming that away from the stage you might mistake him for a member of his own entourage.

Elvis impressionist Trent Carlini held his VIP gala opening last night at the Steve Wyrick Theatre at the Miracle Mile Shops in Planet Hollywood. His show is slyly titled “Elvolution,” to reinforce Carlini’s claim that the production is a bolstered version of the Elvis act he cut loose on the public nearly 20 years ago, most recently as “The Dream King” at the Sahara. Carlini’s show is good for Elvis fans who want a healthy dose of nostalgia. He enthusiastically sings the Elvis classics, re-creates a segment of the legendary 1968 comeback special, wears a snugly fitting white jumpsuit and deals black scarves to women invited to the lip of the stage. He ably performs the famous Elvis karate kicks, chops and spins, taking long pauses to straighten his costume and catch his breath. The 2007 champion of ABC’s “Next Big Thing” talent contest, Carlini sings in a husky, Elvis-esque voice and looks so much like The King that suspicious minds wonder how a guy was blessed with such idyllic features.

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Adam "DJ AM" Goldstein at LAX.

This King’s court, the Steve Wyrick showroom, is of course by the grandiose illusionist of the same name. The cozy venue has a seating capacity of 435, and I get the feeling that Carlini has had trouble drawing a suitable audience, as early in the show he commented, “It’s nice to play to an audience.”

As I left the Wyrick Theatre after the show (many in attendance left a lot earlier), I ran into to a friend who saw Elvis open the International in 1969. He said, as expected, that there was no comparison between the performances of Carlini and the real thing. It’s impossible to re-create the energy and raw emotion of an Elvis performance, no question. Even so, the Strip should be home to at least one Elvis impressionist at all times (and I’m not counting the upcoming Cirque show based on Elvis, which is more an artistic interpretation of his music in the spirit of “Love” at The Mirage). An Elvis tribute production show should be mandated in Las Vegas, even if it means registering the show as a historic landmark, rotating it annually from casino to casino. It could play the Riviera, then Paris Las Vegas (which has had an empty theater for more than a year since “The Producers” ended), Flamingo, Circus Circus -- everyone gets a spin with The King. Carlini could front that production. He’s already got the suits, the band, the film clips (of him, not of Elvis) and, of course, the scarves.

Carlini was just the first stop last night. Later, DJ AM (Adam Goldstein), who has risen to iconic status in the nightclub entertainment industry, opened his new residency at Rain in the Palms. AM is a partner in LAX nightclub at the Luxor, and previously performed his mind-blowing, turntable-and-MacBook Pro act there and at Pure at Caesars Palace (and before that, Body English at the Hard Rock Hotel) before being snapped up by the N9NE Group at the Palms. AM has a well-chronicled story that strays far beyond the clubs, as he and performing partner Travis Barker were seriously burned and two others killed in a Sept. 19 Learjet in South Carolina (Barker and AM have since filed lawsuits as a result of the crash, with AM reportedly seeking some $20 million in damages from Learjet and other companies for medical expenses and pain and suffering).

The performance last night at Rain drew, at the very least, the club’s capacity of 2,000. For comparison, that’s about the size of the “Love” theater at The Mirage, and there were likely more than that who made it through the club in the late-night hours as AM unloaded his unbroken stream of dance mashes. His costume? Jeans and a red-and-white-checked flannel shirt. But the attire is hardly the draw for DJ AM, whose stagecraft is his piecing together of dissimilar music styles. One moment it was Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough” followed by Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.” It is rare that Jacko careens into Steve Perry, but this guy makes it happen.

The huge crowd that turned out for AM was not unique. Last night was the fourth time I have seen AM perform in Vegas, at Pure and LAX, as a solo act or with Barker. Every time I’ve seen him, the club has been jammed with people, who stood in line for an hour or longer, nursing overpriced drinks and buying $10 cigars from a gal dressed as a go-go dancer. He never fails. It’s like printing cash, having DJ AM on board. As he manned the turntables in a lighted booth set in front of a dozen big screens glowing with his image and logo, I wondered what Elvis himself would have thought as this new king held court. I’ll bet he would have been impressed.

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