Saturday, June 2, 2007

BREAKING: Pam's Backstage "Shenanigans"

Sorry I've been lax in posting the past few days as I catch up with work and deal with some family drama. Plenty to report in coming days, so stay tuned.

But here's something that just won't wait. Tonight Miles and I attended the opening of the Hans Klok-Pamela Anderson show at Planet Ho, "The Beauty of Magic." We'll have a full report on "The Strip" podcast this week for sure.

Anyhow...the premiere was scheduled to start at 7:30 pm so, stupid us, we actually were in our seats around that time. By 8 pm, we'd seen almost everyone we actually like -- Robin Leach, the R-J's Mike Weatherford, the Sun's John Katsilometes -- and were getting antsy. (Norm, where were ya?!?)

So we corralled a prominent Planet Ho exec to ask what the hold up was. And this is what was said:

"Pam is back there with David LaChappelle and Amy Winehouse and there are some, uh, shenanigans."

Amy Winehouse is the up-and-coming British singer who has become known for canceling concerts because of her drinking. David LaChappelle, of course, directed Elton John's "The Red Piano" show at Caesars Palace's Colosseum, and Pam pole-dances in the video that accompanies Elton's "The Bitch Is Back."

We can only imagine what the "shenanigans" were -- or why it would hold up the show, seeing how Pam doesn't appear in "The Beauty of Magic" until about 45 minutes in.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Brandon Flowers: Other Vegas Bands Are Jealous

The Brandon Flowers interview is up (along with the rest of the episode including a really great Top Secret Tourist Tip of the Week). Click on that link above or right-click here to download it to your computer and listen at your leisure.

Here's the part that's bound to get some attention (Tramps is the gay bar the band first started out playing in):

"We want people to be proud of us, y'know? There's so much jealousy that goes on in Las Vegas about what we've done. And it's kind of a shame. We'll sell out the show but a lot of the people are going to be from L.A. It's pretty pathetic. It's a common thing for people in your hometown to kind of shy away. The people who filled Tramps up, those people aren't going to be in the front as they were before we sold any records. They're going to be bitching about it on blogs."

Flowers also talks about playing with U2, those gay rumors and what's next after they wrap up their second tour on Friday at the Hard Rock Hotel.

Also up is a BONUS edition featuring an animated interview with drummer Ronnie Vannucci Jr., who tells of playing a Caesars Palace lounge at age 6 and responds to critics of the second album, "Sam's Town." Right-click here to download that.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

"The Strip" is LIVE tonight with 7-8 pm with Brandon Flowers

Don't forget to join us 7-8 pm PT with Brandon Flowers of the Killers at LVRocks.Com!

My Night With Liza and Liza


What starts out on a lark ends up with another adoring recruit from the ranks of Minnelli's most fervent fan base

By Steve Friess
05/30/07 - NVToday.Com
Liza Minnelli grabbed my arm painfully tight. Her ecstasy was understandable, I guess. She just couldn’t believe this was happening to her. It was a dream come true! She was a mere six rows from her idol, Liza Minnelli, and she was having a really difficult time containing herself, of not leaping on stage to help belt out the numbers she’s performed countless times.

For me, of course, it was a gag. A journalistic stunt. Something I could joke about later and write about on my blog and possibly include in a piece I was writing for Tuesday’s New York Times about a celebrity impersonators convention at the Imperial Palace. I envisioned regaling people at cocktail parties for years to come with this tale. “There was this time that I took a Liza impersonator to a Liza Minnelli concert in Vegas,” I’d be able to say.

And so here we were — Liza dead-ringer and former "Legends in Concert" performer Suzanne Goulet and me — at the real Liza’s historic “gypsy” show, a free, intimate performance after midnight at the Luxor for hundreds of performers and show-related people on the Strip, just as the Rat Pack used to do back in the day.

Yet by the time the remarkable night was over, it no longer seemed quite so funny. Not only did spending those hours with my Liza humanize her and alter my mocking impressions of people who make a living dressing up as a famous icon, but I also finally understood for the very first time in my long gay life what it is about the real Liza that sets so many queer hearts aflutter.

You see, I’ve never been that kind of gay. You know the ones I mean, those who become flamboyantly flustered at the very notion of a certain legion of female musical legends: Judy, Madonna, Cher, Tina, Liza. True, I carry a torch for Bette Midler and yes, anyone who began her career performing in a gay bathhouse has earned their bona (boner?) fides in divadom. But oddly my intrigue began not over a cocktail at a gay bar but as a teenager watching a film nobody else seemed to like, “For The Boys,” which charmed me to death and received lousy reviews and box office. And I never obsessed about her or wanted to be her; no, my lifelong musical obsession has been over Simon & Garfunkel. Make of that what you will.

So it’s never been my thing. I’ve never seen “Liza With a ‘Z.’ ” I only saw “Cabaret” in the past year and only because I was about to interview director Hal Prince for USA Today. Liza herself (the real one) actually chastised me last summer when I interviewed her for “The Strip” podcast and clearly was out of my depth. “Honey, you haven’t seen my show, have you?” No, I sure hadn’t. And, while I’m generally familiar with the Garland-Minnelli family history, it just never held a lot of intrigue to me.

It does now. I walked into the Luxor showroom prepared for unrelenting camp such that I felt it funny to bring my own in the form of Suzanne. But Suzanne herself was no joke; she had the moves, the hair and the voice down pat, although she felt slightly embarrassed showing up in her Liza look and having so many real-Liza fans gawk at her. Some were amused, some behaved as though we were defiling the real-Liza experience.
Later I’d understand. Liza took to the stage at about 12:30 am Monday in a shimmery white outfit and endeared the audience to her instantly with her frank talk of her efforts to lose weight and then sings a silly ode to “the greatest American woman in history,” Sara Lee. She spoke lovingly of and to her audience, as though she was astonished they felt she was worthy of their attention, and she told story after story of her life as Judy Garland’s daughter.

There was an explanation for every song she sang, many of them pieces of music she came into contact with thanks to her godmother Kay Thompson, most of which few of us had heard and many numbers of which she insisted she was trying out in public or the first time. She went through three or four costume changes, never cut a single corner vocally and performed a litany of dance numbers that few would have believed her capable.

There was a sense in that showroom that we were witnessing something historic because Liza herself was speaking of people, places and times that few who were present knew of or could personally recall. I wasn’t planning to stay the whole two-plus hours, but it was difficult to turn away when this 61-year-old, who had battled all sorts of health, marital and addiction issues, was working that hard to entertain, to reminisce, to be adored.

More than that, there was a sense that this was as close as any of us would get to the nostalgic eras of Vegas. Suzanne Goulet and her kind earnestly try to recreate it, but when the real thing is on stage, you just stay where you are and watch.

And so I did, until Liza belted out “New York, New York” as a tribute to her “Uncle Frank” and then lavished the audience with gratitude. Which just made you love her even more, of course, since we had done nothing for her but cheer her on.

Perhaps that’s all she craved.

Steve Friess is a Vegas-based freelance writer and podcaster whose book "Gay Vegas" will be published in June from Huntington Press.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Scenes from the Impersonators Convention

This is one of those times when pictures tell the story better than words. If you want words, you can read my New York Times piece on the celeb-impersonators convention and the Reel Awards. I'll just clarify for you that these are NOT drag queens. I'm pretty sure all of these imitators were the same sex as their subject matter. And most were really, really convincing.

Minnie Pearl chats with Marilyn Monroe with President Bush in the background.

Two Marilyns. One good, one not so much, huh?

George Burns and Donald Trump, with Tom Cruise and Jay Leno in the background.

Monday, May 28, 2007

This week's Strip is LIVE on WEDNESDAY

Miles and I have to go to a three-hour orientation that kicks off our process of adopting our first child, so we had to move the live recording of "The Strip" to Wednesday this week.

Our guest this week is Brandon Flowers of "The Killers" -- finally! Join us Wednesday from 7-8 pm PT at

Real or Fake? You Decide!

I've got much to tell about the impersonators convention and the Liza concert late Sunday that got me home at 3 am, but I've been much too tired to write today. You can read my New York Times account of the convention at this link on the NYTimes site or at this one on my site.

But until I catch up, you tell me - is this the real Liza or a real fake?

Sunday, May 27, 2007

A Real and Fake Liza Sunday

Hope you're all having a nice holiday weekend!

Miles and I were out yesterday spending money like drunken gay sailors, refurnishing our bedroom, kitchen and living room, plus replacing my dying iPod and picking up a fancy camcorder so we can start doing more video editions of "The Strip."

Meanwhile, after all the hullabaloo surrounding the Mel Brooks stuff, I've been busy finishing a few uninspiring but well-paying assignments to pay for all that loot.

More interestingly, though, I'm off tonight to the Imperial Hellhole, err, Palace to cover the 16th annual "Reel Awards," an awards show for the celebrity impersonators industry, for The New York Times. Should be a trip. And as of now I'm still debating whether to attend Liza Minnelli's "gypsy" show at 1 am at the Luxor, a free show for her fellow Strip performers, which she calls "my kids." I hate being out that late, but it's Liza and it's a raw retro Vegas throwback to the Rat Pack era when such shows were common. Also, it'll be fun to see if I can tell the difference between the real Liza and all the fakes I'm bound to encounter!

It'll also be interesting since Liza herself got surprisingly rankled last summer when I interviewed her for "The Strip" and asked her about all the impersonators who make a living doing her. You can hear that off-the-wall chat here or right-click to download it and hear it whenever you wish.

My Awesome Little Bro

I'd been meaning to post these and this holiday-weekend lull seems just the time.

As many of you know, I have a Little Brother (from Big Brothers Big Sisters), Jamie. I "got" him when he was just 6 and this August he turns 17. He's graduating from high school next month (a year early) and he's always been really into dance in addition to the more typical teen-boy pursuits of skateboarding, video games, odd hairstyles and girls.

This is a unique, amazingly self-possessed and easy-going kid and I'm incredibly proud to have been a part of his upbringing. He has also, over the years, been a fixture in my writing, whether it's when we snuck into 21 pools on the Strip and graded them for the L.A. Times or when we went backstage at the Boom Boom Huck Jam for the Boston Globe so he could meet his motocross and skateboarding idols. He and his family were also incredibly supportive of my need to speak out when some religious right nutjobs attacked Big Brothers Big Sisters for allowing gay adults to be mentors, which I did in an op-ed piece that ran in several papers around the nation and led to a CNN appearance.

Last weekend, I joined his family at the historic Boulder Theatre (owned by Desi Arnaz Jr.!) in quaint Boulder City for his recital. Here are a few pictures of him doing his moves. I wish I had a program so I could tell you what's what in here:

Make Of This What You Will

Was driving north on Main Street west of downtown yesterday and this caught my eye...

It's a sign for the Art Bar. Not sure what more there is to say on this...