Sunday, Dec. 22, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Last week, I joined hundreds of other partyers in celebrating the 15th anniversary of Las Vegas Weekly, sister publication of the Sun. It was an amazing buffet of great music, best explained by John Katsilometes, our entertainment columnist and the Sun’s Editor at Large.
— Brian Greenspun
Afterward, Joshua Bell said simply, “Man, that was fun.”
Vinnie Paul was saying the same thing, except a lot louder.
Other than being human beings on Earth who happen to share an affection for deep-fried chicken wings (this is true), Bell and Paul would seem to have little in common. But on Wednesday night, they appeared on the same stage at Havana Beach Club at the Tropicana.
Bell is the violin virtuoso regarded by many classical music artists and fans as this country’s greatest living musician.
Paul, founder of the heavy-metal band Pantera, is regarded by many hard-rock artists and fans as one of the top five heavy metal drummers.
The stage was set for the latest Stifler party. The Stifler concept originated as an unplanned, randomly staged show at the Lounge at the Palms, which twice spilled out of that 230-seat room. “Stifler” was used as a throwaway title for the events after ringleader and host Frankie Moreno had just watched the movie “American Pie” on DVD, and “Stifler” is the name of Seann William Scott’s character in the film. Stifler is a wide-open performance where entertainers are called onstage at any time.
In the opening moments of Wednesday’s Stifler party and performance that was part of the new Las Vegas Weekly Unscripted showcase at Havana Beach Club, Bell and Paul took the stage. Not together, mind you. No one is that crazy — yet — but when Moreno and his backing band from the Stratosphere lumbered onstage and played two show-opening numbers to loosen the lug nuts, it became as crystal-clear as the chandelier that hung above the crowd that this was no ordinary party.
John Payne of “Raiding the Rock Vault” opened with Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.” Bell performed “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” and then “Eleanor Rigby” with Moreno, reminding of the night five years ago when Bell took wise advice from members of the Las Vegas Philharmonic to catch Moreno’s famously careening show at Rush Lounge at Golden Nugget. The two wound up recording the Beatles’ classic, launching a tight musical partnership and friendship.
After that, it was game on. Vince Neil (who said he would attend in a text to Moreno just hours before the start of the show) and Guns N’ Roses guitarist DJ Ashba and were summoned by Paul for the Kinks/Van Halen rocker “You Really Got Me.”
Within 10 minutes, the crowd bolted from their seats (those who were seated, anyway) for standing ovations to some beautifully performed classical violin and some of the most thunderous rock you’ll hear performed in Las Vegas or anywhere else. The buzz hadn’t subsided and wouldn’t over the next two-plus hours, as in fast order ’N Sync’s Joey Fatone turned up for “Recipe For Love,” Michael Grimm (who played a game of hide-and-seek in the first half-hour of the performance) was brought up for “Please Come Home For Christmas” and stayed for “You Don’t Know Me.”
The rollout of talented performers never abated. Smith Center Cab Jazz headliner Clint Holmes. “Rock Vault’s” spiritual leader, Paul Shortino. Piero’s resident songstress Pia Zadora with the renowned Vinnie Falcone on piano. Melody Sweets of “Absinthe.” Stephanie Calvert of Starship. Martin Kaye of “Million Dollar Quartet,” joined by Graham Fenton of “Jersey Boys” for a wonderful if lyrically loose take on Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock.” Felice Garcia of “Million Dollar Quartet.” Travis Cloer, who plays Frankie Valli in “Jersey Boys” when Fenton doesn’t. Zowie Bowie’s Chris Phillips singing “Santa Claus is Back in Town” with Jeff Totora of Blue Man Group on drums. The talent was boundless: Savannah Smith of “Vegas! The Show.” Aria lounge wizard Patrick Sieben, with Avalon Landing’s Ryan Martin on drums. Some of the most eye-popping performers were not so well known; trumpet ace Joey Pero plays at Container Park. Watch for this guy.
Behind the music, Moreno’s brother Ricky produced some weird and wild clips of humans dressed in animal costumes and of dolls performing highly inappropriate acts with each other. It’s not known whether Bell realized what was happening behind him, but it was hilarious.
It was not all singing, either. Lacey Schwimmer, once a pro dancer on “Dancing With the Stars” on TV and at the Tropicana Theater, spun around the room and atop Moreno’s piano on his great original “Some Kind of Love.” Geechy Guy reeled off 200 or so jokes in six minutes. Master Chef Rick Moonen of RX Seafood at Mandalay Place gave a toast, though he’d not been told he’d be doing that until 30 seconds before he was onstage. Robin Leach kicked off the night with a toast of his own, which was only fitting because of his long affiliation with Champagne.
I was handed a microphone for emcee and man-about-club duties, so it is impossible to note everyone I bumped into or even talked to during the party. But rare is the occasion you see your own boss, in this case Brian Greenspun, seated just feet away from Payne and the Shortinos, at a nightclub at 1 a.m. Early in the show, I ran into a guy at the bar who looked just like Orel Hershiser. Wait, that was Orel Hershiser.
I sat for not long enough with Holly Madison and Pasquale Rotella, along with “Pin Up” star Claire Sinclair, in one of the club’s circular booths. I was yanked into a conversation by Maren Wade (“Vegas! The Show”) and Amanda Avila (an “American Idol” finalist in Season 4 in 2005), both of Terry Bradshaw’s stage show. Michal “Misha 10-Pack” Furmanczyk of “Absinthe” shared a booth, coincidentally it seemed, with Rockhouse and PBR Rock Bar & Grill owner Jonathan Fine.
In one lap, I yanked at the sleeves or otherwise happened upon Murray Sawchuck and his wife and “Fantasy” dancer Chloe Crawford; “Rock of Ages” emcee Mark Shunock and his wife, Cheryl Daro, and cast member Troy Burgess with his wife, “Fantasy” dancer Yesiney Burgess; Trop lounge star Skye Dee Miles; Anne Martinez of BBR; and Jerry Jones of the vocal group 5th Avenue. At one point, Las Vegas Wranglers President Billy Johnson regaled me in a conversation he’d had that involved Paul, and that is another tale for another time.
Just running through all of the fascinating individuals in that audience of more than 650 reminded me of what makes this city unique. For generations, the city has drawn some of the greatest and most spirited entertainers on the planet. Bob Anderson has told many stories of his time at the Top of the Dunes Lounge, when the Rat Pack and assorted stars (Don Rickles, Tom Jones, Tony Bennett and a cavalcade of others) streamed into this performance after their own shows let out. Jerry Lewis was fond of dropping in on Louie Prima and Keely Smith at the Sahara. The tradition lives today, as this year was marked by some wildly entertaining shows filled with a cross-section of the city’s best entertainers.
Andy Walmsley has produced three “Showbiz Roast” shows, spotlighting Zowie Bowie, Oscar Goodman and Frank Marino. Shunock has started a monthly “Mondays Dark” variety show at Hard Rock Hotel’s Body English, spotlighting a separate charity each month. For years, Kelly Clinton-Holmes has assembled fun open-mic nights at Bootlegger Bistro (Clint is often on hand for those, as is Antonio “Huggy Bear” Fargas and any number of Scintas). If you hit Composers Showcase at the Smith Center, or catch the weekly scenes at T Spot Lounge at Tuscany, the Monday night jams at Tap House, or the jazz gigs at the Dispensary Lounge, you’ll see some of the greatest performers, and the best people, living in this city.
But Wednesday’s show far eclipsed anything I’ve seen in Las Vegas. It was so jammed, so wide-ranging, it was impossible to absorb what was happening as it happened. It’s a testament to Moreno’s own ability to cross genres that DJ Ashba will turn up at the same performance as Pia Zadora. At one point I was standing next to Shunock just at the side of the stage, watching Marino and Kaye jam together on the piano. “Dude!” he said. “This is epic!”
I was surprised to know two powerhouse singers who have been in Las Vegas for years, Calvert and Garcia, had never met until this party. “I mean, I walked in and everybody was there,” Calvert said. “Everybody.”
We toasted the long, distinguished history of Las Vegas Weekly with glasses of Champagne Moreno is currently endorsing, from Moreno Vineyards (unrelated to his family). I didn’t drink the Champagne and never plan to, but Frankie sure likes the stuff.
The evening ended with Fatone onstage with Moreno and his band, joined by Schwimmer, for the ’N Sync hit “Bye Bye Bye.” The crowd was standing and cheering. Moreno high-fived those at the front, then a cannon blast filled the air with confetti.
I’ve heard from a lot of folks who said they have never seen anything like the latest Stifler and first Unscripted party.
On Thursday morning, I caught up with Moreno as he had just flown to L.A. and I was at the airport waiting to fly to Idaho. “Holy crap, that just actually happen?” he said, seeming not to believe his own handiwork.
It was doubtless a night you could only find in Las Vegas. There are a few cities that try to borrow what we have here, and I was recently in a region that fancies itself as “Asia’s Las Vegas,” Macau. All I can say is, you’re welcome to see how we celebrate Las Vegas in Las Vegas because we’re going to do it again. Just pay attention. #Stifler. #Unscripted.