Tuesday, March 9, 1999 | 10:06 a.m.
About midway through his new CD "Brian Evans, Live at the Desert Inn," the apple-cheeked crooner shares a special moment with the crowd.
"This is probably my favorite tune to do, especially in the business I'm in," Evans confides before indulging in "Maybe This Time."
"It's a long road," Evans continues, reinforcing his bond with the audience at the Starlight Lounge. "Anybody who's ever strived for anything ... if you listen to the words to this tune, you'll probably find elements of it you can relate to."
Evans, in probably his most spirited and heartfelt performance on the 17-song CD, sings, "I'm not a loser anymore, like the last time and that time before. Everybody loves a winner, but nobody loves me. Mr. Peaceful and Mr. Happy, that's all I want to be.
"It's got to happen ... maybe this time, I'm going to win."
The song's melancholy mood befits a battle-scarred, beaten-down lounge lizard, not a marketing-savvy 28-year-old entertainer feigning mid-life crisis. But in his mind, Evans has reached a plateau after being knocked down and pushed 'round in "this business," and "Live at the Desert Inn" serves as his own sort of coronation.
"It proves I've done something in this business," Evans likes to say. "Nobody has ever released a live recording from the Desert Inn. I can say I've done that."
He's right on all counts. Desert Inn spokesperson Caroline Coyle confirmed that none of the legendary acts who have performed at the hotel-casino (which turns 50 on April 24, 2000) has ever issued a live recording.
"Brian approached us with the idea and we think it's a wonderful marketing tool," Coyle said. "He's very popular here and he's the only one to have done this type of recording."
Evans and his management team are conveying that point with all the subtlety of a box of bricks, peppering media outlets from Rolling Stone magazine to Reuters to TV Guide with the fact that Evans is the ONLY act to issue a live recording from the D.I.
To his credit, Evans is aware that issuing his own live CD from, say, the Oklahoma City Sheraton Inn probably wouldn't merit such media attention. It should also be noted that Desert Inn headliners such as Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Tony Bennett were probably too busy creating top-shelf original recordings to consider a live album from the Desert Inn.
However, Evans (who returns to the D.I. from April 6-18) is nothing if not thorough. He packs more than 69 minutes of recorded material on a CD designed to accommodate 70. Included are anthems for budding crooners such as "Summerwind," "The Lady is a Tramp," "What a Wonderful World," "Mack the Knife," "Blue Velvet," "I Left My Heart In San Francisco," "New York, New York" and "My Way."
Evans and his four-piece band -- stand-up base, saxophone, drums and keyboard -- serve up versions of classic lounge tunes with varying results.
Too often, Evans' voice either flattens out our quivers when he strays into baritone or tries to hit the high notes (taking on Louis Armstrong's deeply textured "It's a Wonderful World" was a particularly regretful decision). But he's strong in mid-range, giving the impression he's still developing as a vocalist.
A few numbers have been slightly modified, again with mixed results. "The Lady is a Tramp" is more up-tempo, even hyperactive, than the famed Sinatra version (it's easy to envision the ghost of Sinatra sidling up to Evans and asking, "What's the hurry, kid?")
By comparison, "I Left My Heart In San Francisco" is refreshingly more subdued than Bennett's grandiose rendition, showing that in some cases, Evans knows his limits. Same with "New York, New York" and an Evans favorite, "Blue Velvet," which fit his vocal range perfectly.
Evans is also still developing his stage presence despite performing in front of live audiences for more than 12 years (he toured 14 states since his last appearance at the D.I. in November). His patter with the audience seems too forced, especially considering that, off stage, Evans is pretty easy-going and quick-witted.
"How's it goin', Dwight?" Evans remarks at one point, calling out to a Starlight Lounge usher in a strained bit of ad-lib. "Let's give it up for Dwight. Dwight -- seatin' everybody all night."
It's not immediately apparent if anyone gave it up for Dwight.
As an attempt to re-create a live ambience, "Live at the Desert Inn" suffers because there is no flow between numbers. Applause fades in and out after each song break, and the audience seems too far distanced -- the muted clapping could very well be coming from a craps table in the middle of the casino floor.
However, because of the song selection and high quality production, Evans' CD works if the listener has realistic expectations. Mostly, it's an accurate representation of Evans' live show: If you're hot at the tables -- and if you've had a couple of Manhattans -- it's a pretty good time.