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December 20, 2014

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iHeartRadio Music Festival Night 1: Musings of Muse, Katy Perry, Elton John and a crowning by Queen

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Steve Marcus

Elton John performs during the iHeartRadio Music Festival at the MGM Grand Garden Arena Friday, Sept. 20, 2013.

2013 iHeartRadio Music Festival: Day 1

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Katy Perry performs with a member of her band during the iHeartRadio Music Festival at MGM Grand Garden Arena on Friday, Sept. 20, 2013.

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Chris Brown performs during the iHeartRadio Music Festival at the MGM Grand Garden Arena Friday, Sept. 20, 2013.

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Elton John performs during the iHeartRadio Music Festival at the MGM Grand Garden Arena Friday, Sept. 20, 2013.

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Keith Urban performs during the iHeartRadio Music Festival at the MGM Grand Garden Arena Friday, Sept. 20, 2013.

The 2013 iHeart Radio Music Festival’s first night is in the books, and the most apt assessment came from Keith Urban, who on Friday night said, “It’s all engine. It’s all engine.

I can’t say for sure to what Urban was referring, but he was saying that to a member of his entourage as he hustled through a bottom-level hallway near the Media Center at MGM Grand Garden Arena. Most likely, Urban spoke of the white Lamborghini Aventador he drove to the hotel lobby Friday as part of a festival contest give-away. A fan won the right to cruise the Strip with Urban and be delivered to the festival in high style.

“All engine” also was a pretty nifty description of Friday’s lineup, which rumbled over a five-hour road trip in front of 11,000 fans who filled Grand Garden Arena and millions more across the country catching the show via live stream through the iHeart website. Yahoo Music is where to listen, and you also an watch through the PlayStation 3 Live Events viewer app.

A quick rake of what I, um, hearted from the first night:

I heart the safe play: Robin Thicke opened the show with a dance song he’s made famous. If you thought it was anything but “Blurred Lines,” you would be wrong. The song keeps its unimpeded advancement, Terminator-style, buoyed by its sampling from Jimmy Kimmel and the twerkmanship of Miley Cyrus.

I heart that suit: Meaning, the suit-of-cards set design, trimmed in lights and framing videos of the crowd and performers. A giant LED screen backs the stage, and iHeart plays well as a live show regardless of how it looks and sounds outside (which I have heard was terrific).

I heart finally figuring out who Fun frontman Nate Ruess reminds me of: Mick Jagger. Arrived at this epiphany when Ruess and the band turned in an airtight set, highlighted by a cover of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” which is a Rolling Stones classic, kids. “We Are Young” was in there, too.

I heart Muse: Ever feel like you’re the last person to discover a great band? I’d not seen Muse live before iHeart, and Friday’s set made me regret that. Amid all the flash and smoke and kinetic pacing of the show, Muse showed it is a musically superior act. “Uprising” was tucked in the middle of the set, thundering through the arena. As a live act, Muse seems just a rhythm section carried by singer Matthew Bellamy's infectious vocals, but the band’s recordings borrow from orchestral instruments and electronic music. They were a force.

I heart the red piano: Not referring to Elton John’s first production at the Colosseum in Caesars Palace, which was splendid, but the actual red-painted piano he played during his hit-heavy set. “The Bitch Is Back,” “Benny & the Jets,” and “I’m Still Standing.” Sir Elton performed sold-out shows with Billy Joel in Grand Garden Arena before his two headlining runs at Caesars and seemed to be having a joyous time of it. He even hopped atop that red piano and clapped with the crowd. Whether spontaneous or choreographed, it was a fun moment.

I heart that new song: John’s new single, performed before he closed with “I’m Still Standing," is “Home Again” and features a deft piano lick at the start and is really appealing. John is not allowing his career to collect mummy dust (borrowing from a line used by Steve Miller at the Joint a few years ago), and played the new song with the same verve as his hits. The crowd stood and roared throughout his set, one of the evening’s great moments.

I heart “California Gurls”: Katy Perry is a fine performer and, more notably, songwriter. It’s hard not to move and sing to “California Gurls,” as the three gyrating gurls in front of me reminded. She blew through “I Kissed a Girl,” too. Perry is one of those artists who performs everything well, in the studio and onstage. She is legit, as the kids say.

I heart the end of Chris Brown’s set: Not everyone can swat a home run, and Brown’s meandering 30 minutes were pretty clearly tracked (most of the vocals in the elaborate dance numbers seem so), the LED-trimmed suits worn by the backing dancers cut out. His run through “Fine China” seemed in a rush as if he was trying to beat the clock (can’t blame him for that), and at the end he thanked all of his fans who “make me who I am today.” In some forums, such individuals are known as “accomplices.”

I heart The Killers: Maybe we can see them in this lineup one day. They would fit in right nicely.

I heart Brian May and Roger Taylor: Queen’s enduring co-founders backed Ruess and Adam Lambert (the combination thereof is fine for a festival show, but man was Freddie Mercury great). Seeing the two of them back onstage reminded of their rock musical “We Will Rock You” at Paris Las Vegas, which brought the city Keith Thompson, now music director of “Jersey Boys.” The late Jim Belk worked on that show, too, which was musically airtight (the Queen founders made certain of that).

Point is, Queen keeps giving. The band took the stage after midnight, but with Lambert and Ruess swapping vocals and singing duet, and still delivered a medley of everything you wanted to hear. A snippet of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Another One Bites the Dust,” “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” “Somebody to Love” and “We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions.” Lambert wears a mustache that reminds a little of Mercury. That’ll probably be groomed away, over time, but May’s guitar and the power from Taylor’s drums, that goes on forever. For those who championed to the end, it was a great way to close.

I heart the lineup today and tonight: Tonight’s festival, which launches at 7, is one of the strongest single-night showcases ever in VegasVille. Listed in the festival’s official order, appearing at MGM Grand are Justin Timberlake, Paul McCartney, Bruno Mars, Maroon 5, Phoenix, Ke$ha, Miguel, Zedd and Thirty Seconds to Mars. Also, Tim McGraw and possibly Miley Cyrus. In five hours, we’ll see two of the hottest contemporary performers (Timberlake and Mars) with the show’s second knight (McCartney, beyond legendary at this point), a bona-fide TV star (Adam Levine) and a movie actor (Jared Leto).

Earlier, and where I am heading now, is the Village, the outdoor venue at the Luxor. Cyrus is the focal point here, equal parts artist and curiosity (maybe not even equally). The Wanted, Jason Derulo, The Band Perry, Avril Lavigne, Krewella, Cher Lloyd, Twenty-One Pilots, Pete Tong, Awolnation and Ne-Yo are lined up in a set interspersed by a series of DJs summoned to the event by concert promoter Clear Channel. It’s the first major event at the Village, which fills a need for a suitable, large-scale, outdoor venue in Vegas. We’ll see how she performs.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWiththeDish.

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