Taylor Hicks paces set with dynamic highs, lows

When something fairly ordinary is the only one of its kind, it can become a bigger deal. Remember all the hullabaloo when that Steak ‘n Shake opened at the South Point?

The next few weeks will tell if Taylor Hicks can line ’em up like an Original Double ‘n Cheese. But dropping his “roadhouse” rock ‘n’ soul right onto the casino floor of Bally’s gives him a similar edge by the laws of scarcity.

As the Strip became nightclub central, DJs crowded out most of the live bands. And the lounge acts they squeezed out tended to be synthetic Top 40 cover groups, not hard-charging bar bands such as Hicks and his six-piece “Soul Patrol” outfit.

Of course, the 35-year-old wouldn’t be headlining even this curtained-off lounge if he hadn’t won “American Idol” to become a minor celebrity in 2006.

But for better (to his integrity) or worse (to his bank account), Hicks’ 15 minutes of fame didn’t polish out the low-fi charms of a guy who came up working dive bars, and who name-drops Wet Willie, the Isley Brothers and Delbert McClinton in the course of one set.

I say “set” instead of “show.” It’s a distinction to linger on.

Last winter, Michael Grimm – a fellow blue-eyed soul man with a TV calling card (he won “America’s Got Talent”) – played the Flamingo showroom and seemed to ignore the venue’s call to a more organized, thoughtful presentation.

But here in The Indigo lounge, Hicks has the luxury of keeping it loose and sweaty. The room has been closed off to sell tickets (though you hear it all just fine in the outlying casino) and those who pay for the prime seats up front have little tables to set their drinks on. (Others are lined up in rows of chairs).

There is no fancy programmed lighting or even much room to wiggle. Hicks tries to work the few inches of stage still left after jamming in six players with a percussion rig and a properly scratched-and-dented Hammond organ.

But he lays down a beer-blending set of originals and covers, where a stretched-out run with guitarist Jamie McClean on the Clapton-esque “I Live on a Battlefield” can hold its own against a like-minded jam on “Love the One You’re With.”

Hicks is a sensible enough showman to pace the set with dynamic highs and lows. He knows that in a room with blunt-edge acoustics, the backing band has to mostly fade away for his smoky rasp to be heard in full range. A few such moments are allowed on the soldier’s story “19” (where Brian Gallagher trades his saxophone for a patriotic flute) and the ballad “Maybe You Should.”

The gray-maned singer was an easy target for “Saturday Night Live” spoofery after “Idol.” But now that the pop culture limelight has marched on, Hicks is left behind as a sincere-enough journeyman, likable and credible in these low-stakes surroundings.

It’s funny that a syncopated, Neville Brothers-like take on “In the Ghetto” – “neo-funk Elvis,” Hicks called it – was one of the set’s few throwaways. I say this because Southern boys such as Hicks and Grimm know their Elvis. If Vegas only fetishizes the tacky jumpsuit of Presley’s Vegas years, these guys try to keep the King’s gospel-rock musical legacy alive.

Maybe that’s why this castoff from that fabricated TV talent show – the one we love to hate and hate to love – feels refreshingly real.

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

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