The Toledo Show
Walking into Harvelle's on a Sunday night is disorienting. The long rectangle of a lounge is lined with a row of red leather banquettes full of couples, ladies with shiny red lips and fur-collared jackets. A cocktail waitress drifts by in a black dress and possibly pin-curled hair. It's so smoky, it feels like you've been transported to a jazz club on the south side of Chicago.
And then there's Toledo Dimon, aka Toledo Diamond. He's concealed by a throng of people at the edge of the tiny dance floor in front of the stage. Three burlesque dancers are reclined, scissoring their fishnet-wrapped legs. His voice is rising above the din, with a come-on that wouldn't be out of place in the catalog of R. Kelly: "Opposites attract, and you look so delicious on your back."
The Toledo Show is Dimon's funked-up jazz night featuring scantily-dressed dancers. It's been running for well over a decade around L.A., with much of it Sunday nights at Harvelle's. A show running that long on Sunday night in Santa Monica, and the place is crammed with this many people? All of us under the impression that the Cher and Christina Aguilera's Burlesque killed off burlesque were apparently wrong.
But credit Toledo and his band as much as "The Dames," clad in lingerie, ripped fishnets, leather bonnets and cat-eye sunglasses. (One was a dead ringer for Kreayshawn, add five years). In a black romper, striped Oxford cloth, puffy polka dotted tie, hat, and ever-present cigarillo -- seriously, the man was never without a lit one; it must be part of the costume -- Toledo looked like a more chill Cab Calloway. Cradling a vintage microphone, he roamed the black-and-white checkered floor, growling to a woman, "I'm the king of the jungle, baby."
His band, The Cats, are nuanced and comfortable in the way only a band who have been playing together for years can be. Especially impressive was the saxophonist/clarinet player, who performed a solo blowing both instruments at the same time.
The Toledo Show is all very dramatic and campy, in the best possible way; I found myself laughing at every lyrical reference to sex ("Is it real, is it right? Wrap your legs around me, baby, to hold me tight"). And Toledo's a showman, no doubt about it. Remember US3's "Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)"? He choreographed that, as well as danced for Janet Jackson and Sammy Davis, Jr. In other words, he knows how to sell every single line and every single leap.
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At one point, he issued the directive, "Now, saxophone," and did a series of MJ-inspired twists and turns before hopping back onstage. Pausing with his back to the audience, his silhouette was dark against giant puffs of smoke. One arm outstretched, he ashed his cigarillo in time to the music. Ain't no business like show business.
The crowd: Very friendly. Men in suits with ladies in '40s-style dresses, guys in track suits, a group of girls who looked like they got derailed on the way to whatever Hollywood club is popular right now, fratty looking dudes in untucked Oxford button-downs.
Random notebook dump: In between sets, a DJ spins and everybody dances and has fun. It is bizarre, however, transitioning from grinding to slinky jazz to fist-pumping to brah anthems.