There’s a moment in Franky Perez’s live show where he drags a bongo to the middle of the stage and sits on a chair spun backward. He bites the microphone cord so the mic hangs just above the drum’s surface. Then the impassioned, embattled, seemingly imperishable rock star from Las Vegas hammers that bongo with a ferocity that makes you think this will be his last show.
There were days when it seemed any show could be the final curtain for Perez, a native son who has soared onstage, wept in jail and hooked up with an internationally renowned touring act, all in the past two years.
“It’s pretty heavy, when you think about it,” Perez says. “I’m very blessed. Two years ago, nearly to the day, I was a bottom-feeding addict.”
Today he’s the singer for the Finnish cello/metal rock outfit Apocalyptica. He leaves this month for a touring cycle of at least 18 months to support that group’s upcoming album, Shadowmaker, due in April. Perez’s Valentine’s Day show at the Palms Lounge will be his last appearance in town before he joins the band in Australia for the Soundwave Festival at the end of the month. (Apocalyptica will play the Joint on April 10.)
How Perez became involved is something of a stroke of fate. Last spring, he heard Apocalyptica needed a singer and was delivered a song from the new album, “Hole in My Soul,” without a vocal track. Perez opened the file in GarageBand and, singing straight into his laptop on his kitchen counter, delivered the lyrics. A month passed, and one day, unexpectedly, he was sent word that his “audition” had won him the job.
“Unbelievable,” says Perez, who turns 39 on February 24. “I’ve been in this business long enough to be jaded, but this was just unbelievable.”
Perez’s story of having it, losing it and getting it back is as old as rock ’n’ roll itself. He earned early success by signing with Atlantic Records’ imprint Lava Records, which issued his 2003 debut album, Poor Man’s Son. In the days when The Killers were still playing Cafe Espresso Roma, Perez’s single “Something Crazy” was receiving radio airplay and he was opening for such arena rockers as Lynyrd Skynyrd and ZZ Top.
But three years later, Perez was in despair, a slave to drug abuse, admitting he’d developed some “expensive habits” that took him offstage entirely for a year. Perez got sober, but not for the last time. He managed to put six years of clean living together, rebuilding a solid recording and performing career as the vocalist for Scars on Broadway (joined by Daron Malakian and John Dolmayan of System of a Down), collaborating with his old friends The Crystal Method, serving as the occasional frontman for the all-star rock band Camp Freddy, and then, temporarily, Velvet Revolver. Beginning in 2012, Perez was also lending his vocals to the hit FX series Sons of Anarchy, hooking up with the show’s band The Forest Rangers, featuring Katey Sagal on vocals.
But in early 2013, Perez returned to those expensive habits. His self-destructive behavior boiled over one morning, during a weeklong “runner” of partying. Falling prey to paranoia, the singer thought he heard someone pounding through the ceiling of his Las Vegas apartment. So he grabbed a softball bat, hustled upstairs, broke through the door and encountered … a startled cleaning crew.
He was subsequently arrested and charged with breaking and entering. He was locked up in the Clark County Detention Center, unable to find anyone willing to spring him free.
“Everybody thought I was safer inside,” he says. “I was on my knees, praying to anyone who was out there in the ether to get me out of this situation.”
Upon release, Perez entered a rehab facility in Southern California, then moved into a sober-living house in LA. “I don’t have the ego that says, ‘I am the best ever,’” Perez says. “I have the ego that tells me, ‘I don’t need help,’ and that is a very dangerous place for someone like me.”
In regenerating his Las Vegas fanbase, he has returned to such cozy venues as Rocks Lounge at Red Rock Resort and T Spot at Tuscany Suites. He performs today like a man who has no more second chances.
“If I could negotiate my whole life onstage, I would,” he says. “I’m the guy who gets in his own way, and I’m learning. I’m tired of being that guy. I’m done getting in my own way.”
Franky Perez February 14, 10 p.m., free. Palms Lounge, 702-944-3200.