Monday, April 11, 2005 | 8:17 a.m.
"Who's Richard Cheese?" one asked. "Why is he such a big deal?" wondered another, glancing at the line of ticket holders snaking around the club.
In a town loaded with lounge acts, performances by Cheese (born Mark Davis) remain significant because he does something few others in his business have ever attempted: cover modern rock and rap hits.
Or, as Cheese is fond of saying, "swankify" them.
For a while, Cheese and his three-piece band, Lounge Against the Machine, had a regular monthly gig at Club Madrid. These days, Southern Nevada appearances by the group are far less frequent, perhaps explaining why Saturday's event sold out well in advance of last weekend.
Keep in mind, tickets went for $29, more than some of the acts Cheese covers get for club shows at the House of Blues at Mandalay Bay or The Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel.
But as many in the crowd of around 500 would probably tell you, the original versions often don't leave as lasting an impression as Cheese's tongue-in-cheek treatments.
Bounding onstage at around 8 p.m. for a run through Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," Cheese quickly got down to less serious business, a take on 2 Live Crew's profanity-riddled "Me So Horny."
Though the lyrics would make your grandmother -- not to mention the dozen or so 20-somethings at a bachelor party table near the stage -- blush, Cheese delivered them in his trademark deadpan fashion, as if he were singing about baking a cake or taking out the garbage.
"What a wonderful song by the great Duke Ellington," he announced afterward, never coming close to cracking a smile all night even as his fans howled with laughter.
"Snap with both hands ladies and gentlemen ... unless you're the drummer from Def Leppard," Cheese offered later, before launching into the Offspring's "Come Out and Play."
Wrapped in a revolving series of dinner jackets -- plain black, then tiger-striped, then loud multicolored -- the pasty-faced Cheese descended into the crowd frequently, doing his best to involve -- and embarrass -- audience members.
One woman happily joined Cheese onstage for a rump-shaking dance, but another turned beet-red as he hovered over her chair singing "I wanna see your (expletive)/Show it to me," from Lords of Acid's 1997 novelty hit.
Cheese also got two men into a Rockettes-style dance line for Disturbed's "Down With the Sickness," easily one of the show's funniest numbers.
The numbingly heavy-metal tune became a swinging, jazzy affair in the hands of pianist Bobby Ricotta, bassist Gordon Brie and new drummer Frank Feta, with Cheese happily closing it out with the incongruously upbeat line, "Here it comes, get ready to die."
Cheese's set list ranged from current FM hits (Green Day's "American Idiot") to '80s classics (Depeche Mode's "Personal Jesus") to hip-hop favorites (Ludacris' "Stand Up").
He also took requests from the crowd, melding them into a rapid-fire medley that had him sampling from Puddle of Mudd's "She Hates Me," Rush's "The Trees" and George Michael's "I Want Your Sex" in succession.
Cheese also performed an appropriate local selection, the Killers' "Somebody Told Me," sitting on a chair and turning melodramatic for the "Somebody told me/You had a boyfriend/Who looks like a girlfriend/That I had in February of last year" refrain.
Even when Cheese wasn't acting foolish, his music was usually successful. His cover of Britney Spears' "Toxic," for example, qualifies as a must-hear in its own right. And whenever the singer exited the stage, his band carried on quite capably, playing instrumental interludes such as "The Imperial March" from "Star Wars."
Tunes got a bit ragged toward the end of the nearly two-hour, two-set affair, but fans didn't seem to mind. They cheered through the last note, then several waited outside to meet Cheese in person and snag a photo or autograph.
As for the skateboards, they'll have to wait a few years to experience Cheese and his 21-and-over performances for themselves. Or maybe they won't get to see him, since he claims 2005 will be his final year touring, at all.
Then again, considering the source, it's hard to take anything Richard Cheese says all that seriously.