Grimm’s voice transcends show’s shortcomings

Michael Grimm doesn’t have an insincere bone in his body. Maybe a sore one, though.

"I’m trying to make it look comfortable. Does it look comfortable?" the laid-back singer asked Tuesday, after taking a seat on the front thrust of the Flamingo stage that extends into the first row of tables.

"This isn’t that comfortable. My butt bone is hurtin’."

Maybe it wasn’t the best time for this confession. The sit-on-the-steps thing was warming up a room that needed some heat and a crowd that seemed detached. Which was odd, because it was seeded with friends and fans who came to support Grimm’s first show as a Strip headliner after years as a well-kept locals’ secret.

But honesty is still the shyish singer’s best friend. Viewers latched onto it when they voted Grimm the winner of last year’s "America’s Got Talent." And the humble, genuine person emerging between the songs helps us locate an original voice amid almost too exact mimicry of influences such as the Allman Brothers.

Nonetheless, the sure-to-improve opening night of this limited run at the Flamingo was a discombobulated affair. The songs themselves were tight enough in the hands of Grimm, five musicians and two female singers. But as a show it lacked flow, a pace or an organizing theme.

Turns out the 31-year-old singer wasn’t kidding when he announced, "I don’t mean to act scared up here, but it’s no act."

Too bad that playing decent-sized venues as Stevie Nicks’ opening act last summer didn’t squelch the jitters. Grimm needed a sharp confidence to overcome the logistics of opening just after a holiday weekend, with limited rehearsal time in a room shared with two other shows.

Even though he’s a "musician" rather than a Donny Osmond-style "showman" — "I’m not an actor," he told the crowd at one point — nothing in a major casino showroom should look like it was thrown together on the cheap, hastily lighted and repurposing Donny and Marie’s set, with monitor amps creating a barrier between Grimm and the audience.

(Given the situation, I wonder how the show would have played if Grimm had defied conventions and started it with the acoustic guitar on the stage steps instead of waiting until the traditional midpoint.)

But his soulful voice and songs transcended all that in the end. He saved any comedians the bother of yelling for "Whipping Post" by opening the show with the Allman Brothers standard. But true to his Louisiana and Mississippi roots, he also reached beyond Southern rock for rollicking, Hammond organ-pumped covers of Professor Longhair and Dr. John classics.

Those covers hail back to Grimm’s pre-"Talent" days as a durable club act. But the signs that he might be his own man come when he makes you listen to the lyrics on "Simple Man" or Joe Diffie’s "Ships That Don’t Come In."

This whole affair was supposed to have something to do with Christmas. But Tuesday’s nod to the holiday was limited to a winning stage-steps cover of "Please Come Home for Christmas."

It could be he will step up production as the actual holiday nears. After all, he told the crowd, each show will change: "I’ll just go and make a fool of myself in a different way every time."

Such are the hazards of honesty in a dishonest trade.

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

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