The Biggest Dick in Phoenix: Richard Cheese at Celebrity Theatre on Saturday, June 7
By Benjamin Leatherman
Better than: Hanging out with the dicks in Scottsdale.
Back in mid-1996, Zach de la Rocha and the rest of Rage Against the Machine ruled the alt-rock world, with stations like The Edge (then on 106.3/100.3 FM) broadcasting the foursome’s aggro agitprop songs from their second album Evil Empire on seemingly an hourly basis. In those pre-iPod days, the radio dial in my ’88 Ford Escort was usually tuned to The Edge, and after hearing about how “tha power dons” were rallying ‘round the family with a pocket full of shells for like the 999,999th time in a single day, I thought to myself, “I wonder what ‘Bulls on Parade’ would sound like as a swing song?”
It wasn’t a cure for cancer or anything, but I thought it’d be pretty snazzy to neuter such a fiercely aggressive jam by rendering it as a jazzy, torched-out number with plenty of call-and-response. But like many random thoughts and ideas, this one was filed away in the back reaches of the mind under the “maybe someday, if you’ve got the time” header.
Fast forward to 2002, when I first heard Richard Cheese croon out his loungy, parody version of Disturbed’s violently hostile chart-topper “Down with the Sickness,” and felt very much like the schnook in those invention-patenting commercials who failed to secure the rights to his new pasta pot, or some such device that could’ve made him a fortune.
“Damn,” I thought, recalling my scheme of six years ago. “Somebody beat me to it.”
Richard Cheese, lampooning lounge-pimp extraordinaire.
(Turns out Cheese wasn’t the only one to give birth to the same brain child, as the Mike Flowers Pops over in England and Australia’s Frank Bennett have been doing jazzy send-ups of pop and rock hits since the mid-90s).
But despite the fact I was suffering from a bad case of “woulda-shoulda-coulda,” I became an ardent fan of Cheese and his slick-sounding spoofs of rock, pop, and hip-hop anthems, and was very much looking forward to the lounge lampoon’s concert at the Celebrity Theatre. It’d be my last chance to watch the big Dick in action, as the singer was billing the current “Lounge the Vote” tour as a swan song to live performances due to “vocal chord problems,” and the concert didn’t disappoint in the least.
The sell-out crowd was already feeling in the mood for swing and swank thanks to a smokin’ opening set by Phoenix jazz ensemble Sonorous (who were joined at one point by songstress Lonna Kelley), but when Cheese strode onto the Celebrity’s round stage with the three members of backing band Lounge Against the Machine, things really got rolling. Carrying an oversized martini glass with him (and getting plenty of hoots from the audience as a result of the prop), the singer started off with his comical versions of Nine Inch Nail’s “Closer” and Mystikal’s “Shake Ya Ass.” He scatted and snapped his way through the vulgar-sounding numbers with style, transforming the venue into a gonzo version of some smoky, barely-lit lounge.
Bill Murray ain't got nothin on Richard Cheese and Lounge Against the Machine.
He seemed extra jazzed for the show, considering he was performing for his hometown crowd. Cheese (né Mark Jonathan Davis) is originally from the Valley and wore his Arizona affiliation on his sleeve by dropping references to local radio stations and businesses (even singing a loungy version of the jingle for a local Berge/Mazda/Volkswagen dealership). He also gave plenty of shout-outs to friends and family in attendance, including his parents.
“Is everybody drunk? Are my parents in the back already drunk?” Cheese asked the crowd. “Somebody get them a drink. My mom likes a good Vodka and Geritol.”
After a few profanity-laced songs, the swinging satirist made some amusing apologies to his folks for all his ribald and racy rantings. Later, he also presented his parents with a what appeared to be a fancy cake and fruit salad in honor of the upcoming Father’s Day holiday while LATM performed a dad-oriented song, which turned out to be the “Imperial March” from The Empire Strikes Back. Clever.
Get up, come on get down with the dickness.
But the audience got more than just aptly-timed recyclings of sci-fi themes, as the Cheese and company managed to jam more than 30 songs into a two-hour show (albeit some in abbreviated form) and gave ‘em more than their money’s worth. The set list featured a large number of TV themes (The Brady Bunch, Three’s Company, Aqua Teen Hunger Force), owing to the fact that Cheese’s latest disc Dick at Night is filled with said songs. He even gave another nod to the Valley by belting out the theme to 80s sitcom Alice, which was set in the PHX.
Like any good lounge singer, Cheese knew how to the work the room, and did so with snazzy style. Ever the showman, Cheese also had his between-song (and even in-song) patter down pat. He moved through the aisles at various points, interacting with the crowd, humorously hitting on married women in front of their husbands, or dragging audience members up to the stage (including bringing three bro’s in tuxedo tee shirts up to dance with him, Rockettes-style, to “Down with the Sickness”).
This shot ain’t from the Celebrity show, but it illustrates how Cheese gets audience members (particularly the female ones) to demonstrate how much they love Dick.
In order to stave off drunken requests for songs from being shouted out during the affair (which they were anyway), Cheese also placed a “suggestion box” made from tiger skin-like fabric (natch) at the edge of the stage.The dapper dood also changed his tux jacket three times during the concert, switching from basic black to one covered in martini glasses, then a faux tiger skin model, and finally a more silvery deal.
Other hilarious hi-jinks included:
-- Before performing audience favorite “Baby Got Back,” he pulled one bootylicious lady onto the stage and requesting she use the mic stand as a stripper pole.
-- During a performance of the theme to SpongeBob SquarePants, Cheese had some in the first few rows blow bubbles and asked everyone else to wave their arms around like kelp.
-- After performing a medley of Beastie Boy songs (“Brass Monkey”/“So Whatcha Want”/”Sabotage”), Cheese noticed some 14-year-olds in one of the front rows and asked them if they’d heard of the Beastie Boys. “Tell you what, go out and buy Ill Communication, Check Your Head, and Hello Nasty and you’ll get laid next year like that,” he said.
-- In the middle of the Pussycat Dolls’ “Don’t Cha,” Cheese began doing hilariously spot-on impersonations of how singers like Bob Dylan, Michael McDonald, or Bjork would sing the song.
(We really wish we had some pictures to show you of the some of these shenanigans, but the singer hates having snapshots taken of him during gigs, so the photo Nazis, err…ushers repeatedly put the smackdown on anyone daring to raise a camera).
Cheese finally wrapped up the show around 11 p.m. after a three-song encore, thanking us for helping “spread the Cheese” and finished with a rendition of the chorus from “Viva
Las Vegas Phoenix.” If it indeed was his final show in Phoenix, (and not just some marketing ploy), it was a helluva way to go out.
Personal bias: I wish I owned a swank tiger skin tux and an oversized martini glass.
Random detail: Before Cheese took the stage, the P.A. system was playing the original versions of many of the songs he’s parodied, including Limp Bizkit’s “Nookie,” Green Day’s “American Idiot,” and Beastie Boys “Brass Monkey.”
Set list (and the originators of each song):
1. “Closer” (Nine Inch Nails)
2. “Shake Ya Ass” (Mystikal)
3. “Another Brick in the Wall” (Pink Floyd)
4. “You Shook Me All Night Long” (AC/DC)
5. “Smack My Bitch Up” (Prodigy)
6. “War Ensemble” (Slayer)*
7. “Crazy Bitch” (Buckcherry)
8. “Indiana Jones theme” (John Williams)**
9. “Brass Monkey”/“So Whatcha Want”/”Sabotage” (Beastie Boys)
10. “Ice Ice Baby” (Vanilla Ice)
11. “Theme from Three’s Company” (Joe Raposo)
12. “Me So Horny” (2 Live Crew)
13. “99 Luftballons” (Nena)*
14. “Airbag” (Radiohead)
15. “Theme song from Alice” (Linda Lavin)
16. “Gin & Juice” (Snoop Dogg)
17. Medley of tidbits of audience-requested songs, including “White Room” (Cream), “Hollaback Girl” (Gwen Stefani), “P.W.A.” (5th Ward Boyz), “Hot For Teacher” (Van Halen), “My Humps” (Black Eye Peas), “Theme from The Love Boat” (Jack Jones), and “Amie” (Pure Prairie League)*
18. “Chop Suey” (System of a Down)
19. Jingle for Clorox 2 (“Mama’s got the magic of Clorox 2”)*
20. “Theme from SpongeBob SquarePants” (Patrick Pinney)
21. “Eye of the Tiger” (Survivor)**
22. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (Nirvana)
23. “Toxic” (Britney Spears)
24. “Don't Cha” (Pussycat Dolls)
25. “Baby Got Back” (Sir Mix-A-Lot)
26. “Theme from Aqua Teen Hunger Force” (Schoolly D)
27. “Theme from The Brady Bunch” (Sherwood Schwartz)
28. “Imperial March” (John Williams)**
29. “People Equals Shit” (SlipKnot)
30. “You're the Inspiration” (Chicago)
31. Encore: “Down with the Sickness” (Disturbed)
32. Encore: “Careless Whisper” (George Michael)
33. Encore: “Creep” (Radiohead)
34. Encore: “Viva
Las Vegas Phoenix” (Elvis Presley)*
* Abbreviated version of the song
Overheard outside: I’m a smoker, so I usually spend a lot of time before shows hanging outside puffing with all the other tobacco addicts. Here are some random tidbits of conversations that I heard:
“He looks like a thinner Mickey Dolenz.”
“The last time I measured it, it was six inches.”
“Yeah, I’m smoking outside the designated area. I’m a rebel without a cause.”
“I think Richard Cheese is the new Danny Elfman.”