Hicks ratchets up the volume at Bally’s

taylorhicksstage.jpgFasten your ears to something secure as Hurricane Hicks huffs and puffs and blows the house sound system down. And a few at the hotel next door.

Yet inside Bally’s Indigo Room, Soul Patrollers—i.e., Taylor Hicks fans—are like storm-chasers who run toward nature’s fury while the rest of us batten down the hatches.

Granted, gritty soul singing isn’t a nuanced genre, and Hicks—the American Idol Season 5 winner in residence through Aug. 20—is the least nuanced of the lot. Backed by a six-piece band matching him decibel for decibel, Hicks mixes originals and covers. On paper it’s a well-chosen program, alternating classics such as Stevie Wonder’s “Living for the City” and Frank Sinatra’s “That’s Life” with tunes he co-composed. Credit Hicks with being a first-rate writer, evidenced by the gutbucket rousers “Maybe You Should” and “What’s Right Is Right” that nail the passion and pain of relationships. Plus, when he blows harmonica, you imagine angels bumping and grinding (and his spastic duck-walking is strangely endearing).

However, the gray-haired belter’s signature style wraps nearly everything in a relentless roar (“Country Living” is especially ear-splitting). Even in soul-singing, tenderness matters. Without that, it is—all the emoting notwithstanding—curiously soulless. Placing the singer above the song, his raucous, good-time take on Elvis’ “In the Ghetto” sacrifices that tune’s human heartbreak so Hicks’ voice can break free of Earth’s orbit. “I think that’s a cool version,” he tells the crowd. “But what do I know?”

Fleetingly, he dials down the start of “That’s Life” and captures its philosophical flavor, then dumps it for a blaring climax. Yes, it’s a muscular number about  hitting and ducking life’s curveballs, but where Sinatra elegantly declared its message, Hicks pounds it into submission.

All this matters little when a performer’s entire persona is built on power pipes and primal appeal. You love him or you don’t. Musically, Taylor Hicks is enough of a hurricane to show up on Doppler radar.

NOSH ON NOTES: We’re in groaner-pun mode, so give yourself a swift kick in the Scintas as the entertaining family act returns to the Suncoast at 7:30 p.m. July 21 and 22. … Don’t blame us for this pun: Calling themselves The Phat Pack, musical theater vets Ted Keegan, Randal Keith and Bruce Ewing will belt out Broadway hits, American songbook standards and original music at 2:30 and 7 p.m. July 22 at The Smith Center’s Cabaret Jazz room. Their credits are impressive: Ewing is in Phantom: The Las Vegas Spectacular as Monsieur Reyer, Keegan spent years playing the Phantom on Broadway and on the road, and Keith did the same as Jean Valjean in Les Misérables. Perhaps no one informed them that the group name they adopted is also the title of a studio album by the jazz ensemble Big Phat Band. No harm, no foul—we’re sure they all swing.

STRIP POSTSCRIPT: Suffering from premature ejection, Geechy Guy’s Dirty Joke Show was tossed out of bed at the Rio’s King’s Room like a Saturday-night pickup on a Sunday morning, closing on July 15. A spokesman for the Geech noted that the act—in which the rapid-fire jokester traded cheerfully vulgar quips with other comics—was “too hard to do without advertising,” suggesting the room was a limp partner.

Happily, the Geech doesn’t practice safe sex jokes, i.e: Woman complains to a doctor that her husband has terrible dandruff. Doctor tells her to give him Head & Shoulders. Woman asks, “How do you give shoulders?”

We’ll miss the G.G. Spot.

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