Sammy Davis Meets Jon Bon Jovi

A lament for the aging rock acts that populate casino showrooms

Sammy Davis Meets Jon Bon Jovi

When I started doing this (whatever this is) in the mid 1980s, casino entertainment was fairly simple to explain. Sinatra, Sammy and the like were in the big showrooms, comedians were in the smaller showrooms, and there were revue shows featuring athletic women wearing large feathers.

That was about it.

But then, the baby boom generation took over the showrooms. Now, casino entertainment is all over the place with rock shows—at least one concentrating on a single, vile decade in the history of pop music; others a collection of “tribute” acts like those Beatles impersonators in period costumes; still other “residencies” like Elton John and Celine Dion at Caesars Palace.

Now that Celine and Elton are wrapping up their residencies, things are getting a little nutty in the let’s-pretend-we’re-still-young-by-clinging-to-our-rock-music-like-grim-death genre of casino entertainment.

The latest entry in this genre is exemplified by how they rang in the new year at the Spa Resort Casino in Palm Springs, erstwhile home of Sinatra and Bob Hope (though in different houses). The Spa Resort featured a “Rockin’ ’80s New Year’s Eve Party” with ’80s lookalikes and tunes from Bon Jovi, Foreigner, Journey, Styx, REO Speedwagon, and… Oh, never mind. You get the drift. Big hair and monotonous synth bass.

I think they even had Duran. (They had wanted Duran Duran, but could only find half the band.)

There were… let’s see… 10 decades in the 20th century. I can’t think of a single one that is less suited for a showcase of pop music than the 1980s. OK, Michael Jackson, Tom Petty and Elvis Costello did some good stuff. Some Springsteen. And I kind of liked The Cars. But the rest was crap. I’d rather watch an Eddie Cantor tribute.

I apologize if I offend; it’s only my opinion. (Luckily, it’s also my column.)

This year, the rock residencies are getting crazy. According to Thrillist.com, new Las Vegas residencies for 2019 include Billy Idol—Las Vegas 2019 at the Palms, Britney Spears Domination at Park MGM, Aerosmith Deuces Wild, also at Park MGM, John Fogerty—My 50-Year Trip at the Wynn, and James Taylor—mercifully, just the name of the performer—at Caesars Palace.

The purpose of these residencies is partly to allow us, aging casino showgoers, to relive the music of our youth. But they also serve a purpose for the performers involved, who can stay in one place—instead of running around to catch private planes, or even, you know, walking across the street. I mean, let’s admit it. Other than Britney, I’ve seen younger faces on cash.

But there they are, preserved as if in amber, to perform the roles of younger versions of themselves. And the better they are at that—some, like Fogerty, are freaks of nature—the more we like it.

In other words, expect more of the same.

Guns ‘N Roses—Do-Rag.

The Rolling Stones—Beyond the Grave.

The Who—Who’s Left.

The Grass Roots’ Midnight Confessions.

(Actually, I wouldn’t mind seeing that last one.)

Oh, and expect more of the rock tribute acts as well. Some are very good. I remember enjoying the one Beatles tribute act I ever attended, even though the “John” guy was a little chubby and looked sort of ridiculous in the Sgt. Pepper suit. (To their benefit, I got no flak for referring to them in a column as the “Fat Four.”)

The tribute acts are still making their way through the decades. As one more indicator of my age, there are now several Nirvana tribute bands—music my children would have heard when they were in high school (had I not trained them to listen exclusively to Bach, Mozart and Miles Davis). Pretty soon, there will be tribute-band tribute bands.

Of course, there is still a sliver of the old style of Las Vegas entertainment to be had. While some of it is in the form of tributes like the Rat Pack shows, there still is at least one living, breathing relic of the old days.

In January, Wayne Newton switched his retrospective show from the Bally’s showroom to Cleopatra’s Barge in Caesars Palace (a nightclub where I spent a few rum-soaked evenings over the years). While his voice is a few octaves lower than when he sang “Danke Schoen,” it’s still Wayne in the flesh—or as Doctor John used to say down in New Orleans, “in the meat.”

In the end, Wayne Newton is the only Vegas entertainment story appearing last month that would have made any sense to my 1985 self.

Hey, how about a Doctor John residency? Doctor John—In the Meat. Now that, I’d go see.

Frank Legato
Frank Legato is editor of Global Gaming Business magazine. He has been writing on gaming topics since 1984, when he launched and served as editor of Casino Gaming magazine. Legato, a nationally recognized expert on slot machines, has served as editor and reporter for a variety of gaming publications, including Public Gaming, IGWB, Casino Journal, Casino Player, Strictly Slots and Atlantic City Insider. He has an B.A. in journalism and an M.A. in communications from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. He is the author of the recently published book on gaming, How To Win Millions Playing Slot Machines... Or Lose Trying.  

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