Wednesday, May 27, 2009 | 12:46 a.m.
At times it was hard to tell who the headliner was tonight at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace. Bette Midler brought a full-scale production to perform about a third of her regular show, “The Showgirl Must Go On,” which is one of the occupants of the 4,000-seat Caesars Palace showroom. Sheryl Crow played four songs, topped by a spirited turn of Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll.” Rita Rudner interspersed event-pegged material (“"Isn't it refreshing to have a president who is funny intentionally?") with her more rote jokes about how Vegas does indeed have a ballet company, but it’s topless. Rudner’s joke about her hiring a Rita Rudner impressionist to watch her daughter -- “And he does a great job” -- is a textbook example of Rudner’s great setup-payoff approach to her act. Take the in-laws to see her at Harrah’s and thank me later.
And yes, there was the president, joking (or probably not) that he’s been afforded “an upgrade” in accommodations at Caesars Palace since the last time he and Michelle stayed there. The difference being, before this visit, he was a mere senator and presidential candidate. Tonight he gets the presidential suite. Free WiFi, I’ll bet.
(For a Twitter-ized recap of the show, check out my Twitter updates at johnnykats, which you can click to on this landing page. As new Vegas Magazine Executive Editor Kate Bennett would say, I am Twitter-tastic.)
Tonight’s event was for Sen. Harry Reid, to help him raise money for his re-election campaign against … TBD, who actually has a decent shot of beating Reid if you believe the latest statewide poll numbers. But in this lineup, the Senate majority leader and scrapper from Searchlight seemed like a crafty sleight-of-hand magician tucked into a Cirque show. He’s good, but wow, that Obama guy …
Reid conceded Obama’s greater oratory skills in his introduction of the president. He said the two are quite similar in their unlikely ascension to power but were dissimilar in three ways: “(Obama) is a much better basketball player than me. To my knowledge, I’ve never been photographed in a swimsuit. And between the two of us, he’s the much better speaker.”
I’ve now seen Obama speak to audiences ranging from a couple thousand in a ballroom at Paris Las Vegas to the 85,000 who packed INVESCO Field at Mile High in Denver the night he accepted the Democratic Party’s nomination for the presidency. I saw him, too, at Cashman Field, in front of an announced crowd of about 14,000 where he led a chant of “Si su puede!” to the largely Hispanic crowd. One characteristic of Obama, he always recognizes the temperature of his audience. He faced a relatively unkind, largely pro-Hilary Clinton crowd at the Jefferson Jackson Dinner at Paris in November 2007, the night he was dusted by Clinton in a debate at UNLV. I came away thinking Obama was really flat that night, wearily repeating a far more powerful speech he had given a couple of weeks earlier at a similar event in Iowa. But at INVESCO, Obama truly seemed larger than life, his voice booming through the Denver Broncos’ stadium. After a stretch where he listed the failings of the Bush administration, Obama fairly shouted, “Enough!” and the place about came unglued. Tonight, Obama reminded that anyone who visits Vegas -- even a sitting president of the United States -- can play it a little loose. When he said of Reid, “He has consistently fought for the values he was raised with in Searchlight,” a few people cheered at the mention of Reid’s tiny hometown.
“You from Searchlight?” Obama asked, laughing and veering from the prompters. Others from the opposite side of the stage cheered the town where, it was noted, Reid grew up without the luxury indoor plumbing coming. “Who else is from Searchlight? A lot of people are from Searchlight!” Later, in his lavish praise of new Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, Obama mentioned that she rose, akin to a phoenix in his oratory, from the South Bronx. Somehow, there were hundreds of people at The Colosseum who were from the South Bronx, and they all whooped it up when Obama made reference to that locale. “You from the South Bronx?” he asked, laughing. “We got people from Searchlight, people from the South Bronx.” Then audience members started feeling it, shouting out places like “Atlantic City!” before Obama said, grinning, “I’m not gonna shout out everyone’s hometown!” It was a different tenor than Obama shows in his news conferences, where he carefully considers what he’ll say next, often pausing for several moments before assembling the proper collection of words to convey his point. Fred Armisen has used those pauses to develop a really good impression of Obama on "SNL."
What we didn’t get tonight was that magic moment that Mayor Oscar Goodman had earlier hinted toward, where Obama would explain specifically that Vegas is a great place to visit and do business. At least, he didn’t say that explicitly, but anyone who watched him work the crowd at Caesars knows the president likes his Vegas.