This is one of those weeks when I fall head over heels in love with Vegas and its music offerings all over again. Younger readers may want to avert their eyes from the sight of an old man waxing nostalgic, but I must say I love ’80s punk, and three of my heroes are performing in strikingly different formats in the next few days. Interestingly, they each released their best work in the same year.
First, ex-Black Flag frontman Henry Rollins. His old band’s 1981 album Damaged, sporting a cover photo of Rollins shattering a bathroom mirror with his bloody fist, is without a doubt the first great American hard-core-punk full-length album. After the Flag fell, Rollins went on to form his own eponymous group in the ’90s and develop into a compelling spoken-word/stand-up artist (also actor, radio host and TV personality). He does his first performance at Wasted Space in the Hard Rock on June 17, as part of his “Frequent Flyer” tour. Angry, funny, passionate, a Rollins appearance shouldn’t be missed for any reason—except maybe a Black Flag reunion. For more info on this show, go to hartswastedspace.com.
Eighties mega-band The Police gravitated to the poppier end of the punk spectrum, sure. But I’m surprised at how little credit Sting and Co. receive for the absolutely stomping 1981 classic Ghost in the Machine. What other rock trio could blend the work of Arthur Koestler (hence the album title), the Troubles in Northern Ireland (“Invisible Sun”) and the teachings of Greek-Armenian mystic G. I. Gurdjieff (“Secret Journey”) into a seamless, rocking whole? Intellectually, Sting is more curious these days about established musical forms like, say, classical. On June 18 at MGM Grand Garden Arena, he teams up with the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra for “An Evening With Sting,” featuring symphonically arranged interpretations of tunes like “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” and—get this!—“Next to You,” a furious three-chord ripper from The Police’s debut, Outlandos d’Amour. Stoked! Visit mgmgrand.com for tickets.
The least commercially successful yet most exciting of the three aging punkers to play Vegas this week is Mike Palm and his California post-surf-rock-band Agent Orange. A triple threat (fiercely talented singer, songwriter and guitarist), Palm is criminally overlooked. I saw him tear the roof off the old Emergency Room Lounge in ’07 with still-vital tracks from his 1981 masterpiece Living in Darkness. I haven’t seen a punk show as good since. His lyrics are every bit as thoughtful as Sting’s; his dim view of existence rivals that of Rollins. On June 19, Agent Orange will likely demolish the Cheyenne Saloon. Admission is $10 at the door. Head to myspace.com/thecheyennesaloonlv for more info.
OK, so I’ve dated myself with this column. I don’t care, because 1981 was a great year in music, and so is 2010. At least it is in Vegas this week.