Monday, Feb. 11, 2008 | 2 a.m.
The crowd lingering outside the Palazzo’s lounge seems surprised by what they’re hearing. They are old enough to drink and gamble but young enough to be unsure whether to come in, sit down and enjoy this “new” phenomenon — live music in a casino nightclub.
In this day of digital downloads, satellite radio and spinning club DJs, hearing music the old fashioned way — from flesh-and-blood musicians — has become a novelty. Today’s live music often is played in arenas and stadiums, where the over-the-top concerts are more about the experience than about the music. Fans can say they have been there and have the high-priced ticket stubs to prove it.
“It’s interesting to see the demographics,” says John Wedemeyer, the guitarist and leader of the band playing in Palazzo’s Salute. “Older people, they’ll stop and listen and say, ‘Hey, let’s go in and have a drink.’ Younger people — 21, 22 — they stand there with this puzzled look. ‘Wow. How do I react? Do I applaud now?’
“They’re just not conditioned to live music. It’s a generational thing.”
The live music scene is hurting all over the country, Wedemeyer says. “My theory is that it’s what you see in society now. There’s very little focus on live bands and musicians. You turn on TV and it’s ‘American Idol.’ It’s karaoke.”
For decades the trend on the Strip has been away from live music, with newer clubs using DJs if they have music at all. A piano player may provide some background sound.
Salute, a 75-seat lounge, hopes to reverse the trend with live music seven nights a week.
There are other live music venues on and off the Strip, such as the Sahara’s Casbar Lounge and Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar and Grill at Harrah’s.
But Paul Vella, director of technical operations for the Venetian and Palazzo, says he wants to kick it up a notch with a mix of occasional big names and a local house band. He’s working with Willie Roach, the production manager for Paul Anka, to bring in the national acts.
The first group, which they called the Side Guys, was David Sanborn’s band — sans saxophonist Sanborn — which played in the lounge as well as provided music for the Palazzo’s recent grand opening.
The local group is called the Other Guys, and it generally performs from 8:45 p.m. to 1 a.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, and 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
The Other Guys include four monster musicians:
• Wedemeyer, a product of the San Francisco Bay Area, is guitarist for the Wayne Newton band, but hasn’t worked with the group in several months because Newton has been busy dancing with the stars. He also played in blues harpist Charlie Musselwhite’s band.
• Keyboardist Ronnie Foster, who performs Thursdays at the Ice House with his own band, Funk’s Way, sometimes tours with Stevie Wonder. He has performed with the likes of George Benson, Roberta Flack and Jimmy Smith. For several years he was with Clint Holmes at Harrah’s.
• Jimmy Keegan was a child prodigy on the drums. He has performed with Santana and sometimes tours with Spock’s Beard, a progressive rock band formed in Los Angeles in 1992.
• Bassist Tim Scott commutes from Los Angeles for the Palazzo gig. He’s a long-time member of Jack Mack & the Heart Attack.
The band has to be ready to jam with musicians who drop by or are invited to sit in. Some of the Tower of Power musicians already have dropped by.
“When they first called me I thought they just wanted me to come in and play guitar,” Wedemeyer says. “But then they asked me if I would be interested in putting a band together. I made a bunch of calls to the ones who would be my favorite people to play with. Nobody said no, which is great in one way but kind of sad in another — nobody is working a lot right now.”
“They wanted guys who can play anything and put it all together. We have to be ready if Slash (former lead guitarist with Guns N’ Roses) walks in; we’ve got to be able to do a rock song with him. If David Sanborn comes in, we’ve got to be able to do his thing. So I put a band together that can go down any musical street.”
They all say they came here because the live music scene is withering around the country and Vegas could be the last hope.
“There are so many reasons not to leave the house today,” Scott says. “Computers, big screen TVs, DVDs, MP3s. Why bother to leave? Live music is a fading art.”
Keegan believes it’s all part of an ebb and flow.
“It’ll come back,” he says. “People right now are so heavily into the YouTube concept. You can go to the computer and watch your band there. But people will start getting hungry for live music again, for the feel of the music, the experience of a live performance.
“A venue like this is great. People are sitting there, listening and go ‘Wow. What a novel idea.’ ”