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Columns > John Zinkand - Improvise

Published: 2004/02/26
by John Zinkand

Phat Shows in Vegas

Ah, Las Vegas. What a party town. I headed there last weekend and saw some sick shows. Although the shows I saw had nothing to do with the upcoming Phish and moe. extravaganza, they were musical, entertaining, mind-blowing, and also down right psychedelic at times. The first night I caught the living legend Elton John perform a show at Caesar’s Coliseum that blew the entire audience away. The sheer immensity of this performance was absolutely amazing. The following night we took in a performance by The Blue Man Group at the Luxor. They put on a mind-blowing multi sensory show that includes music, art, comedy, and psychedelia. If for some reason you can’t get a ticket to all three nights of Phish come April, I highly recommend Blue Man Group as a surrogate band. They will twist your mind more than the Phish show. The Elton John concert started off with gigantic, multi-colored, flashing neon signs dropping down from the ceiling that spelled E-L-T-O-N. Then Elton took a seat behind his large red piano that was strategically positioned inside a white neon star. He kicked off the show with a spirited version of Benny and the Jets and the mostly older crowd went nuts. By the second or third tune, a massive screen behind the stage kicked in showing all sorts of interesting video tidbits like old concert footage, naked hippies, and back stage parties. A great version of Philadelphia Freedom had lots of footage from the 60’s and 70’s. Elton played an extended version of Rocket Man while the screen showed a farcical back stage scene with Justin Timberlake playing Elton and Paul Reubens playing the irritated road manager trying to keep the droves of fans and press people away from Elton.
Elton also slowed things down on a whim and played straight ahead music from time to time without the enhancement of eye candy on songs like Candle in the Wind and Tiny Dancer. And there is no doubting his musical ability on the piano. Several times throughout the evening he had some seriously rocking improvisational solos. But the full-on Vegas show kicked in near the end of the set beginning with Pinball Wizard. A giant silver ball dropped down in the center of the stage and the crowd was assaulted with all sorts of beeps and clangs while the screen showed footage of pinball machines and folks gaming in Las Vegas before the band ripped into a very fast version of Pinball Wizard. Next was The Bitch is Back which was accompanied by Pamela Anderson pole dancing on the huge screen and gigantic inflatable sexy legs and pair of boobs popping up on either side of the stage. The rest of the set included more huge floats of bananas, cherries, and airplanes, confetti and balloons from the ceiling, and a vast array of images on the big screen. The first few rows of fans were even invited to come up and dance on stage during Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting. Then Elton took it all down a notch with a sweet rendition of Your Song to end this amazing show. The next night it was off to the large dark pyramid at the end of the strip known The Luxor Hotel and Casino to see The Blue Man Group. The show started off with a scrolling marquee instructing the crowd to do different humorous things like urging the audience members to speak a happy birthday to someone in the crowd…but not to sing! The show consists of three bald blue men in black shirts and pants doing random things and funny skits. They are also pro drummers and much of the show displays their skills as percussionists banging on drums that spray different colored paint in the air with each strike. They also banged on several different plumbing tubing that made different pitches depending on their size. A band that sits high above the stage and is painted in day-glow paints backs the blue men, giving them the affect of being psychedelic marionettes. They drive the show with their ethereal rave-like background music. There is also a good deal of audience participation as the blue men often walk out into the crowd and freak out the audience members with their blank stares. At one point they picked a young woman from the crowd and pulled her up on stage to partake in a humorous skit that involved eating Twinkies (and also Twinkie goo spraying out of their chests). The show gets more and more intense as it progresses and black lights and strobe lights help things get pretty crazy. Water whirlwind sculptures located on either side of the stage and are enhanced by the psychedelic lighting. One scene has neon men dancing on a screen before they seemingly jump off the screen and dance on stage. There is even a karaoke segment to the song White Rabbit (but only if you know the song, if not there is another activity for you). Then the show peaks out with things hanging from the ceiling and twisting around to the music to strobe lights while paper streamers are strewn all about until there is nothing but utter chaos. It is hard to convey this performance in words, but it is one awesome experience. Here’s a good description: Go see it. So while I will probably not be able to afford to make it back to Vegas in April for some of my favorite jambands, I don’t feel shorted in the slightest. I got to see one of the best known song writers of our generation perform a sold out show and was able to experience the insane world of The Blue Man Group. So if Phish tickets are hard to get one night and moe. is playing just a little too late for you, I cannot recommend either of these two shows enough. Sure they are pricey, but there is nothing like a full-on Las Vegas style show.

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