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The Rivers Casino's Wheelhouse takes a gamble on local musicians

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I approached my first visit to the Rivers Casino with apprehension. I'd call my luck average at best. I can't play poker without constantly referring to the deck's rule card. And from my limited casino experience, I figure I'm more likely to see sweat-suit-wearing dudes playing the slots than tuxedo-clad Peter Lawford doppelgangers. My plan was to indulge in some complimentary root beer, then check out the evening's entertainment: slick, crowd-pleasing locals No Bad Juju. 

Bypassing the slot machines and tables, I make my way to the Wheelhouse, a "high-tech sports bar," where No Bad Juju has already been playing for an hour and a half. The eight-piece is, it seems, the perfect mid-gambling diversion. Its covers are expertly selected and rendered, as though the group consulted some scientific study entitled, "What people will dance to when out on the town." They've got style, they've got polish, they've got a babe of a singer -- Sabrina DeMatteo, who not inaccurately describes herself as "Gwen Stefani meets Patti Labelle and Tina Turner." 

I'm impressed by the high volume of 40- to 70-year-olds out kickin' it on the dance floor at this late hour. Maybe I'm just out of touch with boomer culture.

In the midst of the dancers looms a familiar figure in a sweaty, partially unbuttoned black shirt and myriad silver necklaces, his mop of hair rendered immobile by years of black dye and hairspray. He bobs contentedly, with a surprising lack of rhythm. It seems strange that no one pays much attention to him, but maybe the ladies surrounding him would be more familiar with his "Demon" persona, onstage the night before at the First Niagara Pavilion.

I move in for a closer look, and Gene Simmons asks me if I'm 21, with the weary indifference of a true rock star. 

"What do you think of this band?" I ask, bewilderedly trying to stay on my original track. 

"I don't think they're really playing their instruments," he says. 

"Like the band at Chuck E. Cheese?" I ask. At which he moves on to a woman with --presumably -- not so much knowledge of kid-party hotspots.

"That Gene Simmons look-alike is there every time we play there," No Bad Juju guitarist Mark Matteo tells me a couple of days later. "I'm thinking he is probably always there." 

I'd say it's a rather egregious case of pot-kettle-black for a celebrity impersonator to suggest that a band isn't playing its instruments. But maybe he was trying to toss this ditzy gal a subtle clue. Either way: Peter Lawford doppelganger, where are you?

 

Wheelhouse hosts live bands most Friday and Saturday nights. For the schedule, visit www.theriverscasino.com/dining/wheelhouse.

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