Old-school showmen preserve classic Vegas glam at Golden Nugget

They’re so old school, even the signs for Clint Holmes and Frankie Moreno inside the Golden Nugget seem like holdovers from another Las Vegas: “Dinner and a show, $35.”

There was a time when the fine print — that dinner is a buffet, one floor below the Nugget’s showroom — would have opened the door to some David Letterman-era vault of Vegas cliches.

But bargains are few these days, and classic showmen even fewer. The pure entertainers who once defined Vegas are an endangered species. Those who still care are grateful to the Nugget for both.

And the Nugget should be grateful for them. The third-floor theater has seen more lackluster times than great ones since Frank Sinatra held court for Steve Wynn in the 1980s, and Moreno and Holmes remind their separate audiences of this piece of history.

But with each showman claiming two nights a week, they bring some magic back. And it works both ways. The cozy venue seems to reconnect them to the era of big personality brought right off the stage and up the center aisle.

Holmes is the sophisticated interpreter who never loses sight of a lyric, even in the full sweep of Christian Tamburr’s jazzy charts. Moreno’s adult-contemporary songs are more part of a ritual. It’s less about listening than creating a shared experience, with Elvis swagger and gospel tent-show fervor.

But the two showmen also have some things in common. Both trade on their charisma as live performers, their singing voices enhanced by the rest of what they bring to the stage. And both are back downtown after riskier, more elaborate ventures on the Strip proved too costly to sustain.

Holmes, who played the Nugget when he first arrived in Las Vegas in 1999, worked hard to stitch his songs into a narrative during his run at the Palazzo. He seemed happy to be free of all that on opening night at the Nugget, which happened to fall on his 71st birthday. He even told a crowd thick with friends and family he was tempted the skip the usual story about his mixed-race parents.

But he told it anyway, setting up the hushed, piano-only original “1944,” chronicling the World War II meeting of his white British mother and black American father. It’s key to his musical identity, along with the delicate balance that lets Holmes play both cruise ships and New York cabarets. Two Stevie Wonder songs in the set say it all: “I Wish,” the obvious crowd-pleaser, and “Another Star,” the offbeat, elegant surprise.

You could argue that Holmes had to wait until he was old enough to come back to the Nugget. In 1999, there was a tinge of desperation in a 50-something singer covering younger pop stars. But at 71, he adds gravity that John Mayer can’t to “Stop This Train” and drills into the lyric of “When We Were Young” with more nuance than Adele.

Holmes at his loosest would still be a fairly subdued night for Moreno. The piano man’s past home at the Nugget was not this showroom, but the casino-level lounge. He brings that spirit — and spirits, for he downs shots on stage — to park right between those freewheeling lounge days and the overproduced effort that went upside down last year at Planet Hollywood.

Funny thing is, the Nugget set list hasn’t changed much since then, proving a trio of horns and three backing singers count for more than the expensive moving parts. Five players still line up for an acoustic set, but this time people can come sit at their feet.

Moreno tosses off originals such as “Biggest Fan” and the retro swank “Tangerine Honey” as if people already know them, and his repeat customers certainly do. And if the new, mostly older folks who showed up to see what comes with the buffet are a little lost at first, they quickly tap into the Jerry Lee Lewis showmanship.

There are buffets, and shows for that matter, all over town. But by the time Moreno had everyone holding their phone flashlights for “Bridge Over Troubled Water”? Newcomers quickly realize this was the rare one demanding they join into a shared experience that’s hard to find anywhere else.

Contact Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288. Follow @Mikeweatherford on Twitter.

This "Alice in Wonderland" cocktail changes colors and flavors while you sip
Take a tour of The Underground at The Mob Museum
Prince death investigation coming to an end
Prosecutors in Minnesota plan an announcement Thursday on the two-year investigation into Prince's death from a drug overdose Prince was 57 when he was found alone and unresponsive in an elevator at his Paisley Park estate on April 21, 2016. An autopsy found he died of an accidental overdose of fentanyl. Search warrants unsealed about a year after Prince died showed that authorities searched his home, cellphone records of associates and his email accounts to try to determine how he got the drug. The county attorney has scheduled a morning announcement at which time charges could be filed.
Art Bell’s Top 10 Shows
A selection of radio host Art Bell’s most popular shows.
Big Bounce America visits North Las Vegas
Billing itself as "the biggest bounce house in the world," Big Bounce America visits Craig Ranch Regional Park in Las Vegas.
David Copperfield in court after man injured during magic trick
The attorney for a British man who is suing illusionist David Copperfield said his client suffered serious injuries after being called on stage during Copperfield's show at MGM Grand.
Disneyland debuts new foods for Pixar Fest on Friday
Pixar Fest takes place ahead of California Adventure’s Pixar Pier expansion. (Janna Karel/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sneak Peek at New Decorations, Merch and Parade for Disneyland's Pixar Fest
Las Vegas Philharmonic celebrates 20th anniversary season
Orchestra’s 2018-19 season features premiere, more (Carol Cling/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Downtown Las Vegas' newest bar is a reggae lounge
Jammyland serves island-inspired cocktails. (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
5 things connecting Las Vegas and Marilyn Monroe
1. Marilyn Monroe, known then as Norma Jeane, obtained her first divorce in Las Vegas at the age of 20 on September 13, 1946. 2. According to some biographers, Monroe lived at 604 S. 3rd Street for four months during the summer of 1946. The house has since been torn down and is now the site of a parking lot. 3. In 1954, Monroe almost married Joe DiMaggio in Las Vegas but the wedding was called off last minute. The wedding was to be held at the Hotel El Rancho Vegas which was located on the southwest corner of Sahara Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard. 4. Las Vegas has at least one road dedicated to the star. Marilyn Monroe Avenue is located in east Las Vegas and intersects with Betty Davis Street and Cary Grant Court. 5. There are currently more than 20 Marilyn Monroe impersonators for hire in the Las Vegas Valley.
This boozy milkshake is big enough to share with seven of your best friends
Fiddlestix makes an "8 Man Milkshake" that's packed with alcohol. (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Five Chris Stapleton songs you need to hear
D. Michael Evola opened E-String to make New York style pizza
Shamrock Macarons at Morels at Palazzo
Zuma serves a sushi roll topped with 24-karat gold
La Cirque covers their quail and foie gras in real gold
Jean-Georges Steakhouse seves chocolate gold bars
3 ways you can eat gold in Las Vegas
Artist Kathleen Nathan On The Virtues Of Library Galleries
The Las Vegas-Clark County Library District’s art galleries offers artists a more relaxed vibe for showing their work. (John Przybys/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nevada SPCA Competes In Tournament Of Tails
The NSPCA and its mascot cat, Prince, are competing in an online voting challenge for a $5,000 grand prize.
Red carpet at MGM for Dan Reynolds Believer screening
Kats on the red carpet for the VIP screening of "Believer," the documentary by Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds about how the Mormon Church treats its LGBTQ members.
Eureka's cocktail comes with a "buzz button" that will shock your taste buds
‘The Sopranos’ Prequel Film Confirmed
‘The Sopranos’ Prequel Film Confirmed Deadline reports that New Line has purchased Chase and Lawrence Konner’s screenplay for their “Sopranos” prequel film. The working title for the prequel is “The Many Saints of Newark.” Chase created the HBO series, which ran for six seasons, and Konner served as a writer. “The Many Saints of Newark” is set during the 1960s riots in the New Jersey city between the African-American and Italian communities. Multiple characters from the series, albeit younger versions, are expected to star in the film. The Sopranos won 21 Primetime Emmy Awards and five Golden Globe Awards during its run.
The Big Bounce America is coming to the Las Vegas Valley
The Big Bounce America. (Courtesy Big Bounce America)
The 90th Oscars Were the Least Watched in History
The 90th Oscars Were the Least Watched in History According to The Hollywood Reporter, 26.5 million watched the Oscars, a 20 percent drop from last year. The 26.5 million viewers would be an all-time low for the Oscars. Overnight returns had the lengthy ABC telecast averaging a 18.9 rating among households between 8 and 11 p.m. ET. Last year, 32.9 million viewers tuned in to watch the ceremony. The previous low for viewership was 32 million viewers in 2008 when Jon Stewart was host. The Shape of Water picked up an award for Best Picture, while Gary Oldman and Frances McDormand won Best Actor and Actress, respectively.
March First Friday theme is “Think”
First Friday art, culture, music and food event takes place on the first Friday of every month in and around the studios and galleries of the Arts District in downtown Las Vegas. (K.M. Cannon)
Cirque’s One Night for One Drop gets ready for the big night
Cirque du Soleil’s “One Night for One Drop” performed a dress rehearsal for the annual benefit show. This year’s show at Mandalay Bay is based on the life of singer-songwriter Jewel. K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal
The Kosher Experience provides kosher foods to Las Vegas families
2018-19 Broadway Las Vegas at The Smith Center
Ten touring productions are on The Smith Center’s 2018-19 Broadway Las Vegas season schedule. (The Smith Center)
News Headlines
Local Spotlight
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like