Las Vegas Sun

October 21, 2019

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Columnist Geoff Carter: Costello’s rule creates a smoky situation at the Joint

Finally I see Elvis. Declan MacManus -- Elvis Costello to the folks at home -- played a two-hour acoustic set at the Hard Rock on May 29. I wore slacks.

A bunch of fellow Elvis aficionados joined me in celebrating the once-angry young man's Vegas debut, to marvel at his vocal control (he pulled away from the microphone and projected more than once), to admire Steve Nieve's dexterous piano work and, finally, to pay our respects to the songs: "Allison." "That Other Girl." "Everyday I Write the Book." "God's Comic." "Watching the Detectives."

The audience sat, rapt, quiet as church mice, except for a crowd in back that murmured through even the quietest moments. I was annoyed -- you've got your entire life to talk, right? -- until a friend told me something later that put the murmuring in context: Costello declared the Joint showroom a nonsmoking venue the night of the performance.

"They might have mentioned that on the ticket," my friend said, firing up another Camel, "before I pay a hundred-plus bucks for a seat. We just went in the back and lit up. (Expletive) him. I saw Costello 10 years ago in Los Angeles and he wasn't half the baby."

He had other complaints, which all seemed to come back to the same point of contention: Costello had declared cabaret rules for a noncabaret show. If Costello was playing to 80 people (my friend reasoned), he would be more than justified in declaring house rules. But a crowd of 1,200 -- that's concert numbers, not an intimate showroom crowd. Like Neil Young's moratorium on alcohol -- he closed the bar as the show began -- Costello's rules called for the audience to make a concession to the intimacy of the event. Which raises the question: How much intimacy can be had in a 1,200-seat room with no booze and/or cigarettes to put the crowd at ease?

The fault doesn't lie with the performer. New Las Vegas needs to re-examine its approach to live entertainment by looking at the old model. In old Vegas, Costello's show would have had table service (and tables), any rules he laid down would have been spelled out at the moment a ticket was purchased, and -- most importantly -- his Vegas stand would have been spread over two or three days and the venue would have set an attendance cap far below critical mass.

Limp Bizkit? Take out all the chairs, tape off the sharp edges and let the boys trash the place. But for sit-down shows, if you're not comfortable in your surroundings, you may as well set those glorious songs on fire. Costello's show was worth standing on my head to see, but in this town -- a town built on guest relations -- no one should have to.

Stereo Dynamics

Moby, "Play," V2 Records: Back in the day, I could tell when an album had crossed over when my friend Jenna picked up on it. She was Q Public at its toughest sell. Her tastes ran from the Three Tenors to Peter Murphy's "Deep" to French pop (and not much further), but whenever a record achieved coffee-table status -- Enigma, Sarah McLachlan's "Fumbling Toward Ecstasy," Peter Gabriel's "Passion" -- she would snap it up without hearing it. Sometimes she'd fall for it after the fact, sometimes not.

I suspect Moby's "Play" will be one of those Jenna-come-latelies. It's possessed of traits that will get it into Jenna's hands before she hears it -- a phalanx of catchy singles her friends will love ("Run On," "Honey"), a nongimmick gimmick that will get the album profiled on NPR (much of the vocals are sampled from 1940s-era spirituals) and a liberal performer who feels strongly enough about his convictions to fill his CD booklet with them -- essays on fundamentalism (bad) and vegetarianism (good). The long and short of it -- when Jenna finally gets around to playing "Play," she'll love it. It was written for her, and for you, and for anyone with ears and a heart.

These songs shimmer, like hazy mirages, and it's to your surprise and Moby's credit that they have real mass when you throw your arms around them. "Honey" raises the temperature in a room, with a subtle funk that becomes a soul-shaking thump long before its 3 1/2 minutes are spent. On the opposite side of the room is "Porcelain," a gorgeous synth-pop number that is as tender as a caress. This is neither techno nor gospel nor a fusion of the two. It's something else, new and beautiful.

Rarely have pure emotions been so accurately encoded in digits. They wait patiently on the coffee table, angling for salvation. Not their own, but yours.

Get out, Act Up

Living legends Nancy Wilson and Ramsey Lewis celebrate Jazz the Way It Should Be Done in a short run of shows in Bally's Jubilee Theater, beginning at 9 tonight. Tickets for these certain-to-be-memorable shows are only $45. Avoid regret over missing this gig by not missing it. Call 739-4111 for more information.

A bargain at twice the price, ska/garage goofballs Buck-O-Nine play the Huntridge Theater tonight at 8. Ten bucks will make you young again. All ages. Call 477-7703.

Punk meets hillbilly in a big way 10 p.m. Saturday at the Serene Lounge. Dragstrip 77, Bad Samaritans, Dead Lazlo's Place and Bad Town Boys will go from pillar to post. For those 21 and over, please. Call 735-6454.

The Seattle Times called Jill Cohn's music "earnest and heartfelt." It's that and then some -- Cohn's brilliant, independent talent begs for more superlatives than I have room for here. The Pacific Northwest-based singer-songwriter brings the smart folk-rock musings of her newest release, "The Absence of Moving," to Borders Books Sunset Sunday at 2 p.m., and to Borders Rainbow Sunday night at 7. Both shows are free. Call 638-7866.