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September 17, 2014

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Star-crossed Turner gives Vegas one more shot at the Hilton’s Shimmer Cabaret

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Earl Turner, shown during his days at The Rio’s RioBamba Cabaret.

For years Earl Turner has been one of my favorite Vegas performers, except that he has this finicky practice of not performing in Vegas. But Turner is back, in the new show “Voices,” with former Society of Seven vocalist Lani Misalucha, at the Las Vegas Hilton’s Shimmer Cabaret. The show opened Wednesday and is staged nightly (dark Sundays) at 7 p.m.

I’m glad to see the gifted but often star-crossed Turner back onstage in Vegas. I’ve not seen a performer work harder than Turner, who is often soaked in sweat after two numbers and, to borrow a tennis term, leaves nothing on the court. That’s no backhanded compliment. He’s an ace. He works to the hotel’s advantage. He plays a great set and is happy to serve, and I’m now finished with the tennis references.

The first time I saw Turner was about 10 years ago at The Rio’s RioBamba Cabaret, which was actually a color-splashed, Brazilian-themed lounge that has since been overtaken by the bar at the casino’s sports book. The crowd of Turnerites had overtaken the lounge and much of the casino floor outside the entrance, with couples doubling up on chairs at video poker machines just to get a glimpse of Turner’s powerhouse R&B performance.

For a time one of the city’s top free acts, Turner then moved across the casino to a ticketed show in what would become the Scintas Theatre. It seemed he was destined to work as one of The Rio’s long-term headliners until the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, effectively doused his audience numbers. He never recovered, or never had time to, from the subsequent tourism slump and moved on to Laughlin, and finally to New Orleans, his home base where he was the tireless inhabitant of the Earl Turner Theatre. But again, tragedy derailed a good gig for Turner, as Hurricane Katrina whipped through New Orleans and effectively shut down the entire city. The timing of the hurricane could not have been worse, slamming the region on Aug. 29, 2005, Turner’s 51st birthday.

Turner has since appeared sporadically in Vegas. There was the doomed booking at Palace Station’s Sound Trax lounge (now the Bonkerz Comedy Club). Turner’s fans are loyal, but even they couldn’t seem to find him tucked away in the corner of Palace Station. Turner also portrayed Clint Holmes’ father in Holmes’ autobiographical play, “JAM,” during its run at UNLV’s Judy Bayley Theatre, though Turner is actually years younger than Holmes.

At the Hilton, Turner promises “some of the best live musicians in the industry,” and a show that is “a mix of octaves, tempos and beats all wrapped in with a little comedy, some fancy footsteps and a few surprises.” Turner is fighting against an unfriendly economic climate, but so what? He’s seen worse.

Fabishness

It had been far too long between visits to see The Fab, so long that an entire resort has been built since the last time I saw The Beatles tribute act at the Cannery about three years ago. These days they are playing the jewel of Boulder Highway, Eastside Cannery, and weirdness unfolded during last night’s performance at the hotel’s Marilyn’s Lounge. Set off to the side of the room, on stage right, is the lounge’s half-court sized dance floor. Members of the audience were ambling over to the wooden space to cut it up during “Paperback Writer,” “Drive My Car” “Twist and Shout” and “What’s the New Mary Jane?” (not really).

One older gentleman was having a particularly good do of it. He was a diminutive sort, wearing oversized khaki shorts, an Eastside Cannery ball cap and short-sleeved, button-down shirt. He seemed to be in his own Octopus’ Garden, just dancing off in his own little world. Between the second and third sets, he gravitated to our table -- the Marilyn’s Lounge VIP table -- and started telling all these Beatles stories in his thick British accent. I was thinking, “I know this guy, and not from just tonight,” as he explained that The Beatles had been known as Silver Beetles, Quarrymen and Johnny and the Moondogs in their earliest incarnations. He then said he once worked as a waiter at the old Le Montrachet restaurant at the Las Vegas Hilton. Pow! I did know him, his name’s Johnny, and a long time ago -- probably 10 years -- he waited a table for me and a few friends visiting from San Francisco. These folks always stayed at the Hilton, where they dined at Le Montrachet and always requested this British fellow Johnny as their waiter. That night long ago, he regaled us in stories similar to The Beatles tales from last night; the only difference was he was carrying our dinner. After a few moments of reminiscing, Johnny went off to “make a penny,” which is British for a trip to the men’s room. I hope to see this Johnny again, sooner than 10 years.

Oh, Canada

What you need to get used to at Las Vegas 51s games at Cashman Field (or Cashman Stadium, as the sign insists) is two national anthems even when both teams on the diamond represent U.S. cities. That’s because of the 51s’ affiliation with the Toronto Blue Jays, so both the U.S. and Canadian national anthems are played. It’ll take 51s fans about half the season to get used to this. A guy standing next to me at Tuesday night’s Fresno Grizzlies-51s game didn’t understand this, saying, “When did Fresno move to Canada?” I told him this is happening as a result of the melting of the polar icecap, and to please remove his hat …

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