A Super Strip Weekend: Crowes, Twyla and Allen

Chris Robinson of The Black Crowes onstage at The Joint
inside the Hard Rock Hotel Casino.
Photo by Linda Evans.

At first blush the three shows I saw in the last two days seem to have nothing in common but there is very much a common thread which I will get to in a bit…

First up on the itinerary was the Black Crowes headlining The Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel Casino. I got to shoot the first two songs (no flash as usual) at the foot of the stage with a handful of local concert photographers including Erik Kabik. I have mentioned Erik in the past and absolutely adore him as he is one of the most talented and giving artists I have ever known but if I keep gushing about him he may think I have crossed over to stalker status and…well…it would be hard for me to continue to share a photo pit with him if there’s a restraining order in effect. It definitely would have been a problem on this gig as they had the floor at the foot of the stage filled with seats (the Santana show set-up).

What were they thinking?!?! A) NOBODY is going to sit at a Black Crowes show and B) if it had been set up for General Admission (GA) standing area they could have sold way more tickets. Also, we would have had a “real” photo pit to shoot from…instead Erik and I had about five square feet of space up against the edge of the stage with rabid fans pushing up against us the whole two songs. Before the show started we got the usual earful from angry and half drunk ticket holders complaining about the price of their tickets and how we were blocking their view and once again we explain how A) this is our JOB and B) we are only in your way for 6-10 minutes of the two hour show. Seriously…lighten up already.

Luther Dickinson of The Black Crowes looking a bit
ethereal onstage at the Hard Rock's The Joint.
Photo by Linda Evans.

Once the two songs were over and we were escorted out of the venue, I hightailed it to my car, threw my camera stuff into the trunk and ran back to get to my seat for the rest of the performance of one of the greatest rock bands of the ‘90s and perhaps of all time. Lead singer Chris Robinson and the rest of the band were rockin’ the Joint hard-core with their jams laced with a lot of down-home southern blues and a dash of old-school R&B to their base of southern rock. Their performance was brilliant and left me wanting more but the band is taking a hiatus after the last few shows at the Bay Area’s Fillmore in the next few days…and rumor has it that the hiatus may very well be permanent so I am so happy that I got to see this show. Thanks to special friends Scooby (FOH engineer and production manager) and Drew (monitor engineer) for making this happen.

The following night we were invited by a dear friend of ours, Tom Young — who used to be Frank Sinatra’s trusted sound guy (and is currently Tony Bennet’s trusted sound guy) — to attend the opening of Sinatra: Dance With Me at the Wynn’s Encore Theater. Sinatra: Dance With Me is a well-crafted 80 minute theatrical performance that was conceived, choreographed and directed by the legendary Twyla Tharp. Having already played on Broadway the Las Vegas version is much shorter (by a whole 40 minutes) and the vocals by the late great Frank Sinatra much less ghostly sounding, blending beautifully with a live big band of local musicians (including a few who actually played with Sinatra when he was alive). The band and sound crew created a luscious audio backdrop for the 15 dancers to perform Tharp’s visual interpretation of Sinatra classics like “Fly Me To The Moon,” “My Way” and “Witchcraft.” The show’s story is about four couples in various types of relationships being lived out inside a nightclub. But the story line seems irrelevant as the highlight of the show, at least for me, was the unbelievable athleticism of the lead dancers, especially Karine Plantadit and Keith Roberts during “That’s Life” and Charlie Neshyba-Hodges during “Pick Yourself Up.” The show will play Mondays through Saturdays at 7:30pm inside the Encore Theater through Saturday, January 29, 2011 with ticket prices at $69 and $89 plus fees and tax. More information can be found online here.

Domenick Allen leads the band onstage
at the Hard Rock Cafe on the Strip.
Photo by Linda Evans.

Finally we got to the Hard Rock Cafe on the Strip to catch the second half of Domenick Allen’s VINYL Rock Show to benefit Toys for Tots. As we walked into the 3rd floor venue that overlooks the southern end of the Strip, Chris Phillips (of Zowie Bowie fame — and who knew he was a good drummer?) was finishing up his guest vocal appearance on this non-stop showcase which also included Reggie Brown (singer of ‘80s hit Car Wash), Billy Hinsche from the Beach Boys as well as Dino, Desi and Billy and Sonny Turner of the doo-wop band The Platters plus Heidi Thompson doing a very good Cher. Domenick and his friends really threw an unbelievably fabulous party and were able to collect hundreds and hundreds of toys for our local Toys For Tots campaign.

Good news: Domenick will be doing an encore performance of his “It’s All About The Music” show at the Showroom at the Suncoast Hotel Casino on January 29 – 30, 2011. For my original column and interview with Domenick Allen about this show, click here.

The band was fabulous and included some of the top players in town including drummer Brian Czach and sax man James D’Arrigo. Gigs like this are hard for musicians and these guys have to have a high degree of confidence in each other and the front person in the whole band. “Special guests” are rarely on hand for rehearsals and it is common in a situation like this for the actual show to be the first time the band has played the song (or songs) with the guest singer. It worked and that’s simply because these guys are all amazingly talented pros who have each others’ backs.

Chris Phillips of Zowie Bowie playing drums at the
Toys For Tots Charity event.
Photo by Linda Evans.

Yes, it was a busy but wonderful weekend. We had originally planned on just the Domenick/Toys For Tots gig and then running over to see Todd Rundgren at Red Rock Hotel Casino but the combination of other late-but-too-cool-to-pass-up invites and the fact that even though we were “on the list” for admittance the shows at the Rocks Lounge require bottle service to get an actual table (if there were any available) so we took a pass on Todd — one of our favorite performers ever — and hung out with friends instead.

So back to that common thread. First, both Eric and Domenick paid me awesome compliments and I think they both need to lay off whatever hallucinogenics they must be on. (Not that the compliments didn’t make me smile…)

Second was trust. I trust Eric enough that I laid down a good chunk of change on a used lens from him some months back. A used lens would cause me a lot of anxiety with pretty much anyone else but I knew that coming from Eric it was well taken care of. Plus, he exudes good karma and I kind of hoped some of it had rubbed off on the big lens I call Bertha. At the Joint, you would think we were a team and not two independent freelancers. In our very crowded space, instead of shoving for the best position as is the norm in many crowded photo pits, Eric and I served as kind of mutual bodyguards against the surging crowd and took turns standing and ducking to give the other a clear shot of the stage. Scooby and Drew talked about how having the trust of the Crowes made their jobs not just easier but the best gig they have ever worked. And Dominick and the players in that band all trusted each other enough to play anything thrown at them and do with style and skill.