John Katsilometes

[The Kats Report]

Strip entertainment notes: Matt Goss’ show times out, Penn Jillette’s new book and more

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The Gossy One wraps it up at Caesars on September 24.
Mario Barberio

The VegasVille scene is once more a veritable cornucopia of news nuggets. It is time to impart:

This week’s announcement that Matt Goss is closing his stylish show at the Gossy Room at Caesars Palace caught many of his fans by surprise. But not everyone was taken off-guard. Word that the Britain-born showman was planning to leave this fall had become an open topic of discussion around town, as a closing date of September 24 has finally been set for the Gossy finale.

Goss deserves credit for conceiving and delivering a focused production that reminded of the great days of Las Vegas lounge and showroom entertainment. The 165-seat room was refitted as a ticketed venue, with Goss commanding a $60-$80 ticket price (and $125 for VIP tickets, leading to a meet-and-greet with Goss, post-show). Goss’ show was always something of a “tweener,” with more production than a lounge act (including his Dirty Virgins dance team), but staged in a venue with a smaller scope than a traditional showroom.

As Goss closes out a run that covered more than six years—no easy feat, especially in today’s unsteady Strip entertainment climate—I recall something that longtime Vegas bandleader Lon Bronson once said of Goss’ show.

In a KUNV 91.5-FM radio interview we conducted in August of 2011, the founder of the long-running Lon Bronson All-Star Band said: “The closest thing we have to a traditional lounge show in Las Vegas is Matt Goss. But it is not really a lounge show. It’s a great show, with his band and all of the dancers, but it is a paid show … In the old days, the boys would subsidize these shows, and you could see a Don Rickles or Wayne Newton, and the tourists would spend their money on the tables or on food.”

Goss often joked about the fans who never paid to see his show who were able to watch him perform from the bar outside the venue, peering in through the curtains and catching his image off mirrored pillars. But in the old days, and we’ll nod to Louis Prima and Keely Smith at Sahara’s Casbar Lounge as the model for vintage-Vegas lounge entertainment, Goss’ show would have been free and open to everyone.

Those who were around in those days miss those times, and we’ll miss the Goss show, which regardless of price hearkened to a very hip time in our city’s history.

Penn Jillette’s new book Presto! How I Made Over 100 Pounds Disappear and Other Magical Tales is out August 2. His latest effort chronicles his remarkable weight loss over the past couple of years, when he topped out at 330 and today is at 234 pounds (as announced from the stage in a show Sunday night).

Jillette faces his own mortality from the top, in the book’s introduction. He talks of the Bullet Catch act, “the most dangerous trick in magic,” which he and Teller have performed more times onstage than any magic show. As the act plays out, the two performing partners fire bullets from handguns through glass panes and into each other’s mouths. Dangerous, yet, oddly tasty.

But as Jillette says, “The Bullet Catch will not kill me. My death will not cause our audience members to be interviewed on CNN. I will die, like many Americans will, as a result of living most of my life being a fat f*ck. By the time I turned fifty-nine, I had been more than one-hundred pounds overweight for over a decade. Before that, I’d been fifty pounds overweight for over a decade, and before that I’d been thirty pounds overweight for over a decade, and before that …. I was a homeless skinny teenager hitchhiking around the country who, for brief, sexy statistical blip, might have been a little more likely to die from a gun than a doughnut.”

In a tale that has become part of Vegas lore, in the fall of 2014, Jillette, now 61, embarked on what he describes as “Crazy” Ray Cronise’s wild “potato diet.” Cronise is a former NASA scientist and innovator, and today Jillette’s diet is free of animal products, grains, sugar, salt … and ammo.

Penn & Teller’s brilliant jazz pianist, Mike Jones—commonly known as “Jonesy”—has a new CD out with his Mike Jones Trio. The title is Roaring, with the album’s theme being how every instrumental number dates to the Roaring ’20s. Titles include a pair of relics from Irving Berlin: “What’ll I Do,” and “I’ll See You In C-U-B-A.”

This was a quick recording but not at all tossed off. Jones pulled together his backing musicians, the husband-and-wife team of stand-up bassist Katie Thiroux and drummer Matt Witek, in July 2015 when he was in New York for Penn & Teller’s Broadway run at Marquis Theatre. The entire album was cut in four hours on July 21, 2015. And the warmth of that spirited session is evident on the CD.

“I like the warmth of a kind of ‘live’ session,” Jones says. “I know some stars—one is Shania Twain—who work for two weeks just getting one drum sound down. That’s not what I do.” Nope. Catch Jonesy every night, playing be-bop jazz before (and all the way through) Penn & Teller’s performances at the Rio. Joining him in his pre-show sessions is a skinny, not-unfamiliar bassist.

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