Thursday, Aug. 21, 2008 | 2 a.m.
If You Go
- What: Richard Cheese and Lounge Against the Machine
- When: 11:30 p.m. Aug. 29 and 31
- Where: AJ’s Steakhouse at the Hard Rock Hotel (seating limited to 225)
- Admission: $42-$52; 693-5000, www.hardrockhotel.com
- Contemporary menu covered with Cheese (4-11-2005)
- The Grate One: As career rises, Richard Cheese still has time to lounge (5-21-2004)
- Grilled Cheese (10-24-2003)
Beyond the Sun
Make room in the Rat Pack pantheon, fellas. Move over Frank, Sammy and Dean ... here’s Dick.
Richard Cheese, that is. Fingers snapping, hair slicked back, tiger-striped tuxedo, microphone in one hand, martini in the other, he’s “America’s loudest lounge singer,” performing perfectly hilarious Vegas-ized versions of rock, rap and Top 40 hits.
Cheese, who calls his retro-revisionism “swankifying,” brings his band Lounge Against the Machine to Las Vegas over Labor Day for two shows at the Hard Rock — appropriately they’re playing at AJ’s Steakhouse, a clubby, classically retro joint, with high leather banquettes and downlow lighting.
Several comedians have done lounge lizards — Andy Kaufman and Bill Murray, to name just two — but Cheese has built a career on his character. An ingenious musical parodist along the lines of Spinal Tap, Weird Al and Steel Panther, he can sing and swing and bada-bing with the best of them.
His kitschy-cool shtick is especially funny when he takes an angsty anguished song and dips it in bubbling Cheese, crooning and finger-snapping to Radiohead’s alienation anthem “Creep,” (“what the heck am I doin’ here?”), outfitting Metallica’s nightmarish “Enter Sandman” with the bouncy bum-bum-bum-bum background vocals from the ’50s hit “Mister Sandman.”
Sacred cows are not exempt from the Cheese treatment — he does a sacreligiously snappy take on the hallowed “Imagine.” And there’s plenty of blue Cheese to go around, when he takes a spin through X-rated gangsta rap hits like Lil Wayne’s “Lollipop,” which Cheese calls “just a beautiful love song.”
“Lounge music lives in Las Vegas,” he says, “the same way that movies live in Hollywood and business lives on Wall Street. And we love Vegas, because it’s the perfect place to do lounge music. Because there are a lot of lounges there.”
A good lounge act, Cheese says, is usually a swing band. “You’ve gotta have a piano player, and I have the best — Bobby Ricotta, he’s fantastic. You’ve gotta have a great big band drummer, like our Frank Feta, who’s phenomenal. And we also have an upright bass player to round out the trio.”
Lounge Against the Machine has had a rotating cast of bass players, including Chazz American, Gordon Brie, Wayne String, Charles Limburger and Buddy Gouda — at the Hard Rock they’ll be joined by an Argentine named (natch) Nacho.
“We’ve put some great, great standards into our act, like ‘Somebody Told Me,’ by the Killers, which is a fantastic love song. And ‘Gin and Juice’ by Snoop Dogg, one of the greats of all music. And we’ve got new material, like this great Buckcherry song ‘Crazy Bitch,’ which is a classic boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl story.”
Cheese and the band have seven CDs, and it seems he comes up with the titles before recording — earlier records include “Aperitif For Destruction,” “The Sunny Side Of The Moon” (a greatest hits collection) and a Christmas album “Silent Nightclub,” which comes in explicit and clean versions.
He’s got three new albums coming up: “Viva La Vodka,” a live recording; “O.K. Bartender,” a swing set; and “Lavapalooza,” which will be Hawaiian-flavored tiki-takes on pop tunes.
And then there’s “Dick at Night,” on which Cheese pays fromage homage to TV theme songs including “American Idol” and “South Park” (“Bobby, go ahead and kill Kenny for me, would ya?)
Cheese and Co. are calling this go-round their Farewell Tour, mostly because of doctor’s orders.
“It’s true, I’m not a young man, and my throat sometimes gives out on me,” he says, breaking character momentarily (when grilled, Cheese asks an interviewer not to reveal his real name, but he’ll allow that he used to run in Los Angeles comedy/radio circles with longtime pals Jimmy Kimmel and Adam Carolla.)
“Oddly enough, Frank Sinatra had the same problem. After years and years of singing you just strain it ... I only play once a week, twice a week max. But as Johnny Mathis once said, the voice is a muscle. You’ve got to exercise it and keep it in health.”
And touring is kind of a drag.
“I get really tired of not being able to play in a good room, not being able to get a good drink,” he says. “And there’s so many nights when ... I’d rather be across town seeing a show. We were in town last week, playing a corporate gig (the New Media Expo), and I had to miss Steve Lawrence because of it. I was so mad!”
He’s not kidding. Cheese may be making fun of the crooners of yesteryear, but he’s sincerely passionate about the men and the music.
“I love Tom Jones, and I love seeing Tony Bennett all the time, “ he says. “I listen to swing and big band and lounge music and vocal standard music all the time. That’s what’s on my iPod — it’s mostly Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Sammy and Dean, but there’s also some great vocalists from the ’50s that not many people know about. And it’s not that I’m studying them — it’s love.”