Pop Evolution brings eclectic vibrancy to the Stratosphere

Smart tourists in any town should ask, where do the locals hang? Where do you go when you get off work?

In Las Vegas, the question could generate all sorts of answers, none stranger than, “I like to go see a 19-piece band cover both Rush and Britney Spears.”

Visitors can see for themselves now at the Stratosphere, where Tuesday brings the second installment of David Perrico’s Pop Evolution in the showroom during the night off for “Pin Up.”

“We live there,” Perrico says with a laugh, as he is also the musical director for the smaller “Pin Up” band. But Pop Evolution is a project that was well under way before he took on the burlesque show, and it’s one of several and sometimes overlapping efforts usually found in suburban casinos.

There’s the big band-derived Santa Fe & The Fat City Horns and the Lon Bronson Band, which started the modern era of this musician-based community. There’s harder rock with the Sin City Sinners, and singers who pull their backing bands from this musical community: Michael Grimm and Franky Perez, who is set to continue his local comeback at the Palms on Saturday.

While the Stratosphere has an official Las Vegas Boulevard address, you could argue its landlocked location and lack of a hot nightclub put it as far from “The Strip” as the Palms.

So applaud it for trying something different with “three live bands, all different,” Perrico says of headliner Frankie Moreno, “Pin Up” and now, his own showcase the first and third Tuesday of each month.

“They’re actually treating it like what Vegas was built on, live entertainment,” Perrico says.

The trumpeter notes that most big cities have “a jazz hang or a big band hang, where musicians get together and play some challenging music, or just get together. But the difference here in Vegas is we’re making it accessible to the public.”

Hence, Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy,” Britney Spears’ “Circus” and the Rush instrumental “YYZ” all rubbing shoulders, arranged for an ensemble with 13 horns, bassoon and viola. “It’s more of an orchestra feel,” Perrico says. “I never refer to it as a big band. It’s definitely not swing.”

Whatever you call it, it drew 300 people for its debut Tuesday, which was advertised more through social media and less like a conventional tourist show (though Perrico says the hotel is pledging that support, too).

Half of each $20 ticket is donated to the Las Vegas Academy of International Studies, Performing and Visual Arts. And, like many a local player, Perrico is a part-time instructor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

And teaching elsewhere on the UNLV campus? Sound designer Jonathan Deans, who lives here primarily because of his work with Cirque du Soleil, but will find out June 9 whether he wins a Tony for the Broadway revival of “Pippin.”

“There are so many amazing, talented people who live here and work here,” Deans says. “Who have worked here and just like it here, so they stay and use this as their base.” He would love to see “more variety and more interesting things, and growth and development here, which maybe supports the East Coast, as opposed to us always getting the second and third version (of new Broadway shows).

“Do some workshops. Do some ‘pre-’ stuff. Some experimental things. It would be good and bad, but that’s how people learn.”

If baby steps begin with orchestrated Rush on alternate Tuesdays at the Stratosphere, pull up a chair.

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.

Find more Las Vegas show reviews at bestoflasvegas.com.