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Mosaic chases fame -- and Elvis' ghost

In a bid to jump-start its career, the vocal group tries a showcase event on the stage Presley used to prowl.

March 01, 2009|Richard Abowitz

LAS VEGAS — When the band Mosaic performed a showcase for fans and Vegas hospitality-industry insiders on a recent Saturday, its six members stood on the stage that probably every performer recalls as the one where Elvis spent his Vegas reign.

"There used to be tables on the floor, and now there are rows of seats. But, yes, the stage is the same one Elvis used," said Rick White, vice president of entertainment at the Las Vegas Hilton, who was showcasing the six-man group that uses voices in place of instruments.

"With Mosaic, all they need is a break," said White, who staged a similar showcase for ventriloquist Terry Fator -- the man who will be the Mirage's new headliner next month. "They need to get in front of an audience in a big room. We are in a position to give them that opportunity. They have the talent, the enthusiasm and the uniqueness."

But the road to becoming a Vegas headliner is long and perilous, especially in today's economy, and in many ways Mosaic is a case study in how difficult the journey can be.

The band's uniqueness did not work well when it formed in Orlando, Fla., in 2002.

"We stopped using the word 'a cappella' -- we wanted to change those stereotypes. We say 'vocal band.' It isn't as square as people think it is," says Josh Husling, 32, Mosaic's bass-player voice. (And yes, as in a traditional band, he says he has to lock into the "drummer" in the rhythm section.)

"I am a music geek," says Husling, who arranges and scores all the parts for the group, the other members of which are Sean Gerrity (guitar and funky weird sounds), Troy Dolendo (percussion and a little bass), Heath Burgett ("manly" lead vocals), John Gibson (baritone) and Corwyn Hodge ("smooth" lead vocals).

Being written off as a novelty vocal act was not the only problem Husling faced at first. In the early years of the new century, there were certain expectations of a band of six handsome young men from Florida: "Let me put it this way -- our website is NotABoyBand .com," says Husling.

Between people not wanting to take a gamble on a novelty act and others expecting 'N Sync, it took two years before Mosaic caught its first paying gig. But the band's luck changed in June 2006, when Flamingo headliner George Wallace hired Mosaic to be the opening act for his comedy show.

Vegas is teeming with novelty talent -- and music geeks, who took to Mosaic instantly. Before the band even had an opportunity to work for Wallace, it caught the attention of then-Harrah's headliner Clint Holmes, who put them on for a cameo. (Wallace and Holmes showed up at the Hilton to see their proteges make their own 90-minute headlining effort.)

Last year, Mosaic also entered the MTV reality show competition "Top Pop Group." After a couple of years working Las Vegas audiences, they had the chops to win the show, using among other songs, an all-vocal arrangement of "Kiss Kiss" by Chris Brown.

In the Hilton's showroom, to the delight of the more than 1,000 people there, the group performed that song as well as a medley of sitcom themes such as "All in the Family," "Three's Company" and "The Brady Bunch." During the medley, they employ a series of props, including wigs and a frame for "The Brady Bunch" that incorporates audience volunteers and a picture of Hillary Rodham Clinton standing in as Alice, the maid -- a bit of theater, along with a dash of humor.

The band also offered a very Vegas sense of pacing and a suitably pretentious theme: vocal music through the ages. It opened with a far too harmonious Gregorian chant and ended with an encore of "Wonderful World," coming after covers of Sly and the Family Stone hits, Kelly Clarkson's "Breakaway" and perhaps, most impressively, Dave Brubeck's "Take Five," complete with vocal bass and drum solos.

In fact, the show was not so much a history of vocal music as a history of music that appeals to every demographic that could enter a Vegas showroom in 2009 -- presented as what in Vegas classifies as "family entertainment": no swearing and only innuendo allusion to most other vices.

But for the members of Mosaic, the night was "the culmination of years of work, pushing the boulder up the hill," Husling said. "At least we will be able to say we got a shot as a headliner in Vegas on the stage Elvis was on."

But the Hilton's White notes one other thing that is important to becoming a Vegas headliner: "Timing is everything."

Even after proving Mosaic can fill and entertain a room, there has to be an available showroom -- the stage Mosaic borrowed for this night will soon be returned to Barry Manilow. Until a showroom opens up, or some other opportunity knocks, Mosaic still has its regular gig opening for Wallace. And for the next couple of months the band has a slew of corporate gigs.

"The rest of the country is suffering, but we have a ton of corporate dates that were suddenly booked," Husling said. "Those pay the best. George was great and gave us his blessing. We will be back with him in May. Then we just will see what happens next."



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