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July 23, 2014

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The Grate One: As career rises, Richard Cheese still has time to lounge

"Oh my God, Becky. Look at her butt. It is so big."

The intro to Sir Mix-A-Lot's chart-topping 1992 single, "Baby Got Back," greeted audience members as they filed into The Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel on Tuesday evening.

The Seattle rapper, however, was nowhere to be found on the set of "Last Call With Carson Daly" - in town to tape nine shows in five days this week.

The lyrics actually came from the mouth of a man far more familiar to many locals in the crowd: lounge impresario Richard Cheese.

Regulars on Southern Nevada's casino entertainment scene for several years, Cheese and his three-piece band, Lounge Against the Machine, have spent the week upping their national profile as the house band for Daly's NBC late-night show. The first two Vegas "Last Call" shows aired Wednesday and Thursday, with a third set for tonight at 1:35 a.m. local time. The rest are slated to run May 26-28 and June 9-11.

The quartet, known for "swankified" versions of popular modern pop, rock and hip-hop tunes, served in the same capacity last year when "Last Call" made its inaugural Vegas sojourn.

"We've been on the show about 15 times now, and we're really hoping they pay us this year," Cheese (real name: Mark Davis) deadpanned in a phone interview last week. "That would really be great."

At Tuesday's first taping, Cheese and his band - decked out in black tuxedos with tiger-striped ties - held down a position along one wall of The Joint, in front of Daly and his revolving cast of guests.

Early in the show, Cheese played Ed McMahon to Daly's Carson, laughing at the host's jokes and tossing in a few of his own.

Cheese and Lounge Against the Machine took the show in and out of its commercial breaks with cuts off its three CD releases, including weeks-old new disc, "I'd Like a Virgin."

The group also warmed up Daly's audience before the cameras started rolling, performing several numbers while flanked by three high-heeled "Last Call" dancers.

Among the band's selections: a swinging take on Snoop Dogg's "Gin & Juice," an up-tempo version of Kelis' "Milkshake" and a hysterically over-the-top rendering of Michael Jackson's "Beat It."

The foursome also played a couple of songs not yet on a Lounge Against the Machine recording, current radio hits "My Band" (by Eminem's D12) and "Toxic" (by Britney Spears).

"We're trying to reach out to all the people in spreading the cheese," Cheese said. "I have noticed that a lot of the people who come to the shows know all the songs, which I think is a testament to people having a broad range of tastes.

"Also, I think people have been hypnotized by corporate record labels into memorizing all the music that's been put out in the United States in the last 15 to 25 years. Radio sends out powerful, dangerous beams into people's heads, and those beams are making people memorize a lot of the contemporary songs."

Much as Cheese relishes a crowd's reaction to his music, however, he said he had ulterior motives for returning to "Last Call" this week.

The first? Free food.

"One of our jobs is to eat as much of the food at the craft service table as we can, and piss off the crew," Cheese said. "I'm always excited about eating crackers and those Cheez-Its. I love those. No relation, by the way."

The other primary attraction for Cheese? Daly's attractive female guests.

"Brooke Burke is on the show, and I'd like to hobnob with her, but most important is Daisy Fuentes," Cheese said. "I've been in love with her since she was just one Fuente, and ever since she's become two Fuentes it's been even better.

"Liz Phair is also gonna be great. What I like about Liz Phair is after she's done performing, you can just put her in your shirt pocket and go. I think she's 4 foot tall. But she's very petite and adorable."

Although the Los Angeles-based Cheese may be most identified with the Las Vegas lounge scene, his growing notoriety is hardly confined to the West Coast.

The group's upcoming tour schedule -- available on www.iloverichardcheese.com -- includes stops in Hawaii and London, with East Coast and Midwestern dates also in the works.

Lounge Against the Machine even played a gig in Portugal recently, which gave Cheese an idea for a possible new Vegas venture.

"I'm surprised there isn't a Vegas casino called Lisbon, you know, like there's Paris?" Cheese said. "Right on the Strip they could have a big casino called Lisbon. I think that's a really good idea for Steve Wynn. If you're reading this Steve, let's get the plans together for that."

Regardless of the success he's found in other locales, however, Cheese retains a special fondness for Southern Nevada.

Several tracks on "I'd Like a Virgin" were culled from the band's recently concluded Sunday night run at Sunset Station, including a few off-color interactions with local audiences.

"We have such a great time in Vegas. Every time we play Sunset Station, we get a lot of wonderful locals coming out to the shows," Cheese said. "It's a wonderful room, our favorite place to play. It's really nice to be around real Vegas people.

"The reason why I do this is to meet the audience and be in a room with these people and to touch the audience, specifically to fondle the audience. And that's what you can hear happening on the CD.

"I'm just sad there wasn't a video version of these songs available, because I really could have made some serious dough if we sold it at an adult bookstore."

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