John Katsilometes

The Kats Report: David Perrico test-drives his new group at the Lounge at the Palms

Photo: Gina Jones

It’s maybe a third of the way through David Perrico’s Pop Strings Orchestra show at the Smith Center’s Cabaret Jazz, and the band is raging on a cover of the Jessie J-Ariana Grande-Nicki Minaj hit “Bang Bang,” with singer Naomi Mauro taking on the howling vocals.

The cozy club is filled with sound and power, searing with eight violins and cellos. And at the end of the song the audience stands and roars. For Perrico, ever seeking the ideal groove, this is a moment to cherish.

“What Pop Strings is after is a high-energy, Top 40 dance vibe,” Perrico says. “I mean, that’s really what I am focused on.”

Pop Strings is the latest top Vegas act to fill Cabaret Jazz, and the second band fronted by Perrico to headline the 240-seat room. Pop Evolution, his 22-piece musical big rig, has also played a series of shows at the Smith Center dating to June 2014. Pop Strings’ next performances are October 10 and 24 at the Lounge at the Palms.

Perrico has earned a reputation as a nimble and tireless arranger, a great player (among the very best trumpeters in town) and a persuasive recruiter of talent. His career achievements give him ample equity in Las Vegas, as he toured extensively with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, and has backed Donny & Marie, Natalie Cole, Toni Braxton and Gladys Knight. He was music director for Viva Elvis (a role he rolls his eyes at today, for the gold-sequined jacket he was required to wear onstage) during that show’s run at Aria. He served as music director in Pin Up, at the Stratosphere before leaving that show in September 2014. He currently performs in and writes the charts for The Rat Pack Is Back at Tuscany’s Copa Room and, among all these other demanding projects, is the music director for Alice, A Steampunk Concert Fantasy, next performing October 13 at Brooklyn Bowl.

Perrico’s latest project, Pop Strings is a 15-member act packed with great players from across the city and featuring a rarity in Las Vegas—a full string section in a small-venue Vegas band. The act debuted at Red Rock Resort’s Rocks Lounge in January, and swiftly built a solid following that complemented Zowie Bowie’s Friday night dancefests in that room.

One of the final bookings by outgoing Station Casinos entertainment director Judy Alberti (whose final day with the company was the night Perrico’s new lineup opened), Pop Strings steadily gained momentum through the spring and early summer. But Perrico, owing to his own sense of vibe—shared by his bandmates—pulled Pop Strings from Rocks Lounge after the hotel built a glass wall enclosing the lounge and separating the band from the customers in the casino.

The room took on more of a nightclub feel, and became well-suited for privately booked events and the new Comedy Rocks stand-up series. But it’s not great for the thundering live music produced by Pop Strings, and Perrico knew it immediately. “I want a room that will work for us,” he says, “and that room was not working for us.”

Perrico left Rocks Lounge in September, lacking a gig anywhere in town. Bold move. He booked the Cab Jazz show on September 24, and quickly made a deal to test-drive the band at the Palms.

There, Perrico has the sort of open venue his band enjoyed at Rocks Lounge, along with an upgraded sound and light system. The band will continue to churn out such pop classics as “Papa Don’t Preach” and “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough” mixed with newer hits (“Uptown Funk,” which has become required material for any live act in Vegas) and a few Perrico-penned originals. He’s hoping for a regular Saturday night residency, and the Palms could use a high-caliber local act after losing Santa Fe & The Fat City Horns to the South Point in September.

The strategy at the Palms, thus far, is to match genres with acts at the Lounge and Pearl Concert Theater. If a hard-rock artist is headlining the Pearl, expect a hard-rock act to play the later gig at the Lounge. Perrico is hoping to convince the Palms’ entertainment team to keep Pop Strings as the set house band on Saturdays, regardless of who’s playing the Pearl.

The far-reaching goal with Pop Strings is to tour the band and use Vegas as a hub. Pop Evolution has effectively been on hiatus for months, with several musicians crossing over from Pop Strings. Perrico says he’s had a lot of inquiries about out-of-town work for the group. “The whole thing with Pop Strings is, how can I tap into what DJs are doing and create that kind of energy with classical instruments in a pop setting?” Perrico says. “We can do that with this band.” The next step is simple: finding a regular room to set the vibe.

David Perrico & Pop Strings Orchestra October 10 & 24, 11 p.m., free. Palms Lounge, 702-942-7777.

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