June 27, 2010

Sunday in the Clark with Cloer – Travis Cloer’s One-Man Show at the Clark County Library Theater

June 27th, 2010

By Stubbleyou

I’ve checked out many volumes from many libraries over the years, but a couple Sundays back I checked out a different kind of volume – that emanating from the pipes of one Travis Cloer and his Little Big Band, as showcased at the Theater in the Clark County, Nevada Library. No Dewey Decimal system here; on this particular afternoon Travis replaced it with his own Ooh-Wee decimal system, or, I should say, decibel system, judging by the audience’s rousing reactions to each and every tune offered. Just as The Music Man’s Marian madame librarian Shirley Jones molted into the avian matriarch of the Partridge Family, so did Las Vegas Jersey Boys’ Travis Cloer depart from his lead role as Frankie Valli for one day to spread his wings and show us what else he’s got. And what we got was just what Mama Partridge urged us to get – we (Come On) Got Happy.

Travis is a singer’s singer. In every hundred or so really good singers out there – and there are plenty – only two or three have that certain something extra that sets them apart, and Travis is one of them. With a combination of technical perfection, sincere emotion, and smooth effortlessness, he elevates every tune he touches to a level that is both beautiful and uniquely his own. (I wonder if his parents named him Travis because Midas was already taken.)

I’ve heard Travis refer to a singer’s voice as his or her “instrument.” It is an apt description, but in my opinion only for those in this uppermost echelon. My short list for those worthy of such a description includes Mel Torme, Kenny Rankin, Ella Fitzgerald, and Travis. Maybe Karen Carpenter. Who’s on yours? But we’ll get back to his singing in a minute…let’s get on with the show.

He’s the TRAVelin’ man, sang a lot of songs
From all over the spectrum
And he played the guitar just like a-ringin’ a bell
As he strummed it with his plectrum.

(Plectrum. One of my favorite music words. Hey, we’re in a library – if you don’t know, look it up!)

The Clark County Library Theater is an intimate, modern theater in the semi-round with nine or ten rows that make close to a 180 degree arc around the circular stage. With stadium seating (each seat higher than the one in front of it) it resembles an indoor amphitheater in which every seat has an excellent view. Comfortable seats, a good sound system, and a stage wide enough to easily host Travis’ Little Big Band, eight across with room to spare and to give the singer plenty of room to move around in front of them.

Travis treated us to an eclectic variety of tunes in different genres, many standards and some with a decided bent toward jazz, r&b, rock, adult contemporary, doo-wop, swing, and blues. Every decade from the 1930’s forward was represented. Irving Berlin, Duke Ellington, Hoagy Carmichael and Louis Jordan were there in composition, as were Jimmy Beaumont, Otis Blackwell, and Jimmy Myles. They were joined by youngsters Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison, Carole Bayer Sager, and the singer himself in a lovely original composition entitled “With A Smile” on which he accompanied himself on guitar. Travis proved himself master of all trades as he slid effortlessly from one genre to another, comfortable and utterly competent with the unique mood and feel of each tune.

Musical accompaniment was provided by the aptly named Little “Big Band.” Much of its punch was provided by the right half of the eight-man line-up, a four-piece horn section that swung, swayed, and smoked all afternoon long. On the far left we had ubiquitous musical director Keith Thompson on piano; Keith can be seen waving to the audience at the end of almost every performance of Jersey Boys as they acknowledge his conducting and directing at the Pallazzo, and still manages to involve himself with other musical projects around town including a monthly composer’s showcase at the Liberace Museum. Moving right from Keith through the rhythm section were bass, drums, and electric guitar. Bassist Tyler Williams, a stand-up guy on a stand-up bass, deserves special mention for providing one of the afternoon’s highlights: On Billy Myles’ “All My Love,” a 1960 uptown blues number, he played an eerie extended intro that featured not only thumping and plucking but sliding and chording – yes, chording – during which his fingertips must have touched every square centimeter of that long neck. My left hand got a case of arthritis just watching him. As the song continued his playing was joined only by Travis’ fingersnapping and vocal. As this moody mood-setter ended it segued naturally into another much better-known finger-snapping and bass song, Eddy Cooley and Otis Blackwell’s (and Peggy Lee’s) “Fever,” which was a real crowd-pleaser. Can you say virtuoso?

Travis was as comfortable chatting between songs as he was delivering them. Joking with the audience and explaining how he grew up in Kansas surrounded by music, he didn’t miss a step when some dork in the audience (that would be me) interrupted with spontaneous applause at the mention of Dion and the Belmonts. (Sorry, Travis, I couldn’t help it. Dion was my favorite solo artist at the same time The Four Seasons were my favorite group.) He told a cute tale of father-son conflict over whether his use of the family car should be tied to the length of his hair – a conflict which happened to mirror my own experience exactly. What are the odds, I thought, that a Jewish kid coming of age in Hollywood California in the 1960’s (again, that would be me) would have his “issues” relived by a nice church-going kid doing the same in America’s heartland decades later? I won’t give away the end of Travis’ story; let’s just say his ended better than mine. Sorry, Trav, but I think I got you beat on this one. After all, I’m from the era of “down to here, down to there, down to where it stops by itself;” your David Cassidy mullet was probably pretty tame by comparison.

Another highlight was a duet Travis sang with the lovely Kristen Hertzenberg, who plays Christine in Phantom – The Las Vegas Spectacular at the Venetian. It was the Golden Globe-winning and Oscar and Grammy nominated “The Prayer,” best known by Celine Dion and Andrea Bocelli. The tune was new to me, and Travis sung in Italian(!), so to me it might as well have been light opera, but no matter – their blend of their voices couldn’t have been better. Midway through I had a surrealization (don’t bother looking that one up – I just coined it: a realization of something surreal) – here I was, miles from the strip in a place probably only locals go, where for the ridiculously low price of fifteen dollars, I was witnessing the art form of the male/female vocal duet at its highest level. Move over Marvin and Tammy, April and Nino, Nat and Natalie, Paul and Paula – there are some new kids on the blog. This truly was as good as it gets. For most of the prolonged final syllable, where as in most duets the singers hit different notes, I could not distinguish one note from the other, despite my conscious effort, until the very end. I finally found meaning to that oft-overused new-age term from the nineties, synergy: the total being greater than the sum of its parts.

Indulge me in this anecdote (trust me, it relates): I have a friend who really is a musical genius, and he really does play piano like a madman. He went to Juilliard at the age of like 12 or something, and he actually lived the Brill Building door-knock scene as re-enacted in Jersey Boys. But unlike Frankie and Bobby Businessman, he got in the door. Sadly though, to paraphrase Mick Jagger, he closed the door but he could not close the deal. So now he’s a teacher. He and I have exactly the same taste in music, or so I thought until I heard him praise something country and western. Now C&W is not exactly my cup of lapsang oolong, if you get my drift, and when I expressed my surprise at his bluegrass exuberance he taught me something: “Stubbs,” he said (not my real name – the needle has been changed to protect the record), “some people like punk, some are into folk. Some are mesmerized by opera, some groove only on jazz. But if music is what you are into, you can appreciate the best examples of any genre.” I got it. Kind of like me with doughnuts.

So how does this relate? To quote Mick Jagger again, “It’s the singer, not the song.” Whatever Travis sings, he will make it worth hearing. If he put out a single with a Gregorian chant on the A-side and a musical interpretation of Congress’ health insurance bill on the B-side, I’d give it a listen. If he covered “Yoko Ono’s Greatest Shrieks, Volume I,” I’d be champing at the bit for the release of volume II. Twentieth century cultural commentator Marshall McLuhan is right — the medium can indeed be the message. As the Ides of March might point out, the voice is the vehicle, baby, and it’ll take you anywhere you want to go. And at the end of the show, it was clear that the audience really enjoyed the journey this voice had taken them on.

As Travis greeted guests and appreciative audience members in the lobby, one could see several local luminaries had been in attendance. Carly Thomas (JB’s Lorraine), with hubby and adorable toddler in tow, came out to support Travis and catch his act, as did Jeff Leibow (JB’s Nick Massi) who was taking photos from the back. (His had to have come out better than mine. He used a tripod – that’s how you can tell.) Travis’ beautiful wife Jennifer, a Vegas entertainer in her own right, was there, as was Patricia Diaz, the pianist who plays onstage both during JB and in the rocking outro as the audience files out of the JB theater. A familiar looking gentleman I could not quite place came up to Travis in the lobby singing the first line of Little Anthony and the Imperials’ “Tears On My Pillow:” You don’t remember me… It was all I could do to not continue from across the lobby, but I remember you…, except I had already used up my dork quota for the day. Lucky for them.

Let me leave you with this. Despite working my way through seven years at UCLA with three at Powell Library, I have forgotten the nuances distinguishing homile, simile, metaphor, and hyperbole. But I do remember the difference between ‘literal’ and ‘figurative.’ I have seen Travis perform three times, and each time I have felt a different physical sensation that I had thentofore (another word I just made up) thought was merely a figurative expression: The first time, my jaw dropped. Literally. The second time, I got goosebumps. Real ones. And the third time, well I ain’t no girly man but I’m secure enough in my masculinity to admit that I felt a bit of moisture well up in my eye. And I’m not too sure any other singer has had that effect on me.

Now they say that any piece of literary criticism (not that this stream of consciousness blathering aspires to be such, but anyway) has to say something negative about its subject if it is to have any integrity, so I will point out my major complaint about the afternoon, and I will quote a line from Jersey Boys to do so: “(…and) TOO SHORT!!!”


  1. Fabulous write up as always, Stubbs. I so agree with you that Travis has that rare talent as a singer to master every genre he selects. His one man shows are always exciting, and I remember that same visceral reaction you describe so well. x, Pam

    Comment by Pamela — June 27, 2010 @ 2:48 pm

  2. Another Stubbs classique!

    It was like watching and listening to commentary by Stubbs while listening to Travis Cloer’s singing and conversing with the audience in-between numbers.

    Bravissimo Stubbs!

    Comment by Chiara — June 27, 2010 @ 3:05 pm

  3. Well said SS: You can also take a person, in this case the Reader, on a wonderful journey with your well-chosen words.
    I hope we can all motivate many more people to see JB for the first time, OR get the return visitors to take some newbies to the shows, worldwide!


    Comment by KC — June 27, 2010 @ 3:18 pm

  4. Stubbleyou, well-done as always. I’ve seen Travis in two previous cabaret shows and he’s so talented. I believe he did “The Prayer” with Jen Naimo in New York, and it was breathtaking.

    And Travis covered “The Prayer” in Italian? Where may I get the single–I need another lesson? My “Pepino the Italian Mouse” is starting to wear out!

    Now, Stubbs, did Travis really retain control of his plectrum in that hot Vegas weather? When I choose to utilize my plectrum in such severe weather (when composing my riffs of course), I sweat too much to maintain control, my plectrum involuntarily falls off and I need to resort to a fingernail!

    Comment by Howard — June 28, 2010 @ 12:05 am

  5. Great article, Stubs! I felt like I was right there with you. I must go to the next concert!

    Comment by Krystal — June 28, 2010 @ 10:42 am

  6. Nice write-up Stubbs! Your wit and humor always shine through. Travis is certainly a gem. Wish I could have been there to share the experience with you. Sounds like you had a good time!

    Comment by Gary — June 28, 2010 @ 5:02 pm

  7. I didn’t realize, as Pam and Howard point out, that Travis had done some cabarets back east before coming out to LV. Nice to hear your comments about those shows as well.

    OMG Howard, you lost your plectrum? Well it’s not as bad as losing your mojo. Take what would have surely been Ogden Nash’ advice: Always carry an ectrum. And keep your eyes out for Topo Gigio — he’s gonna be bigger than Pepino!

    As to the rest of you, thanks for the kind words but keep your eyes and ears open – Travis did say he’d like to return to the library theater, so you may soon get another chance to see – and hear – him ;-) .

    Comment by stubbleyou — June 29, 2010 @ 2:04 am

  8. Funny you bring up the song “Hair”, Stubbleyou. I always thought that Bob Crewe must have been in the next room rehearsing “Good Morning Starshine” with Oliver, and came over to give the Cowsills tips on the introduction. Just listen to them sing “She asked him why” and you’ll hear what I’m talking about.

    Comment by Ted Hammond — June 29, 2010 @ 7:49 pm

  9. Wonderful review, Stubbs. I so want to see Travis in concert.

    Comment by Linda — June 30, 2010 @ 8:20 am

  10. Ted, I had forgotten the Kevin-Baconnection regarding Bob Crewe producing Oliver’s “Good Morning Starshine” album. But your no-doubt-astute observation regarding him giving tips to the Cowsills for their intro on “Hair” eludes me. Could you explain?

    On the other hand, I imagine that Travis, having grown up in Kansas, must have done his share of Cow(sill) tipping.

    Comment by stubbleyou — July 3, 2010 @ 10:35 pm

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