Friday, April 24, 10:08 p.m.
The man singing onstage just kicked one slender leg up to his ear in a sort of standing split, his wavy, bleached-blond hair blowing back from the force like he’s a video vixen on the hood of a car.
Not surprisingly, Dr. Zhivegas looks nothing like Boris Pasternak’s turn-of-the-century doctor/poet who messed around on his wife in Czarist Russia; even on a good day during the Revolution, Dr. Yuri Zhivago could never have pulled off the white shirt (open), white pants (tight), black velvet pirate coat and elfin-toed silver loafers.
Dr. Zhivegas is backed by two female singers and three suitably rock-tastic performers, one of whom is a shorter-haired dead-ringer for Lenny Kravitz. Or at least his pink scarf is. No, there is little similarity between St. Louis band Dr. Zhivegas and Pasternak’s tortured soul, Zhivago, which makes it all the easier to push Pasternak out of mind and focus on the lead singer’s disco set.
Put simply, Dr. Zhivegas is a cover band. Typically, I hate cover bands. Since moving to Nevada—the Cover Band State—I have made an exception only for Zowie Bowie, which has blown up this year and is now performing a little closer to the Strip at the Palms. As Dr. Zhivegas has picked up the reins in the Rocks Lounge at Red Rock Fridays and Saturdays and at Green Valley Ranch Sundays, I figure they must be at least that good.
From Bowie to Earth, Wind & Fire, Prince to Kool & The Gang, Dr. Zhivegas frontman Frankie Muriel is in his element. He’s not doing an impression, but rather giving an impression, a talent coveted by the best cover bands. For 12 years, Muriel and Dr. Zhivegas have been covering the ’70s and ’80s in St. Louis to much fame.
Before that, though, Muriel was the leather-jacketed, smooth-chested lead singer of KingoftheHill, an early ’90s hair band singing poppy metal from behind their long, luscious locks in frayed jeans and bandannas. Their two “hits,” “I Do U” and “If I Say,” can be found on YouTube, grainy but totally bitchin’. I fell for the latter, which brings back memories of Nelson, Firehouse and a bouncing Kelly Bundy. Twenty-some-odd years later, it’s unmistakably Muriel on our stage, though my friend Martin proclaims him the love child of David Lee Roth and Peter Frampton, both visually and audibly. A good observation, but I’d also say that was a compliment.
While the backup singers do the backup-singer dance, Muriel wails on a cowbell. “Are we having a party over here?” he asks one half of the room, hand cupped to ear. They scream. “What about over here?” We scream. Though there’s still an art to creating a party where there already is one—ask any club promoter—it’s a task made infinitely harder where there is not, such as in a casino lounge; it’s only as happening as the audience will let it be. Though they might be headed to Cherry after this, they have no intentions of hitting the on-Strip clubs, crowd-surfing through lines and turning over their stimulus checks for bottle service. These folks—tourists and locals alike—came here to party.
So what does it take to be a lounge act in today’s Vegas? Great hair—check. A tan or at least an orange tint—check. Tons of bling—sorry, Muriel, Zowie Bowie’s Chris Phillips has that one covered. A pedigree—yep, Zhivegas certainly has that.
A catchphrase: Signing off for the night, the DJ sends the band off with “They’re the one and only, armed and dangerous Dr. Zhivegas!” Check.
And finally, the ability to smile anytime, anywhere: The doctor sends me birthday love with the rocker point and a twinkling smile, and suddenly I’m in sixth grade again, kissing the Bop Magazine pics of Gunnar Nelson in my locker. Sigh. Check.