Courtesy of Rock Sugar

Rock Sugar's songs are mash-ups of pop and rock classics. The band performs at Harrah's Lake Tahoe on Saturday.

Mash-up masters Rock Sugar create one sweet sound

Published: Friday, Jul. 26, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 21TICKET
Last Modified: Friday, Jul. 26, 2013 - 10:38 am

Los Angeles-based Rock Sugar takes "mash-up" music to a new level, melding heavy metal songs with seemingly incongruent pop hits of yesteryear to create singular, flawless tracks.

Think AC/DC mixed with Madonna ("You Shook Me Like a Prayer") or Queen combined with Mötley Crüe ("We Will Kickstart Your Rhapsody").

And did we mention they play their own instruments?

"It's great fun," says lead singer Jess Harnell of the arrangements. "And since we've started and traveled the country, now there are bands everywhere covering our material."

Rock Sugar takes the stage at Harrah's Tahoe Saturday – their third appearance there. Harnell said he loves playing Tahoe: "Everything is great, but being in the same dressing room where Frank Sinatra hung out? Come on!"

Harnell is more than a singer. His flexible voice – which can hit the Steve Perry high range and then drop into a James Hetfield growl, all in the same song – has paid off in another way as well.

"For over 30 years I've been making my living with my voice," he said. "I do a whole lot of voiceovers."

Not minor ones, either. He'll be heard in the upcoming "Transformers" movie (he spoke robot in the first three as well). He played Wakko Warner on the popular cartoon "Animaniacs." For 13 years, he's been the off-screen voice for "America's Funniest Home Videos." Disney hired him to do Brer Rabbit for the Splash Mountain ride (he's done seven other voices for Uncle Walt's company).

Harnell has also found a niche "looping" dialogue for movie stars.

"There are certain stars whose voices I master," he said. "When a movie is being edited and they need some re-recording of sound – and the star is unavailable – they call in people like me.

"Recently, I've been voice matching Jeff Bridges and worked on 'R.I.P.D.,' which is funny because he comes with his band to Harrah's the week after I'm there" (7:30 p.m.; $27.50; Ticketmaster).

Also at Tahoe

Russell Brand is calling his new tour "Messiah Complex" and the posters reference Jesus Christ, Che Guevara, Gandhi, Malcolm X and Hitler.

So, be warned. The man who was dismissed by MTV for showing up to work dressed as Osama bin Laden shortly after Sept. 11 is still out there, ready to offend.

Russell Brand defies labels and has played the lovable if dissolute Aldous Snow of "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" and "Get Him to the Greek." Add in his roles as Trinculo in Shakespeare's "The Tempest" and Dr. Nefario in both "Despicable Me" movies and the result is a performer with some range. He debuts Saturday at MontBleu (9 p.m.; $55, $65, $75; Ticketmaster).


Boomtown, Reno – Ballroom: Guitar Bar: Fran Cosmo, Saturday; Molly Hatchet, Sept. 1. (800) 648-3790.

Carson Valley Inn – Cabaret Lounge: Stew Stewart, today-Saturday; Lisa-Marie Johnson, Sunday-Wednesday; Chili Sauce, Thursday-Aug. 3. (775) 782-9711.

Eldorado, Reno –

Biggest Little City's Block Party, Fridays-Saturdays. Showroom: "Grease," Tuesdays-Sundays, through Nov. 10. (800) 648-5966.

Harrah's Lake Tahoe –

Rock Sugar, Saturday; the Meter Men, Tuesday; Jeff Bridges & the Abiders, Aug. 3. (800) 427-7247.

Harrah's Reno – Sammy's Showroom: Biggest Little Sideshow, through Oct. 13. The Stage @ the Zone: Drive, today-Saturday. Convention Center: Jeff Bridges & the Abiders, Aug. 4. Outdoor Plaza: Keyser Soze, Saturday; DJ I, Aug. 3; Lil' Elmo & Cosmos, Aug. 7. (800) 427-7247.

Harveys, Lake Tahoe – Improv: Rondell Sheridan, today-Sunday; Eddie Ifft, Wednesday-Aug. 4. (800) 427-8397.

Horizon, Lake Tahoe – Illusion Fusion starring Alex Ramon, Thursdays- Tuesdays, continuing. (775) 588-6211.

MontBleu Resort, Lake Tahoe – Showroom: the Village People, Aug. 3; Whitney Cummings, Aug. 9. (888) 829-7630.

Silver Legacy, Reno – Grand Exposition Hall: Johnny Mathis, Saturday; Engelbert Humperdinck, Aug. 3; Howie Mandel, Aug. 9. (800) 687-8733.

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Read more articles by BY Mel Shields

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