Classics & Chestnuts

There ought to be nothing more unpredictable than awards shows and Armageddon. The pounding heart, the sweating palms, the waiting. Any minute, an announcement will come from God, or from that guy in The Hangover (who emceed the May 22 Billboard Music Awards but, regrettably, not the Rapture), that forever changes at least one life, or maybe all lives.

Alas, modern hokum demands that everything turns out just the way you thought it would. Justin Bieber left the MGM Grand Garden Arena with an armful of statuettes, and the octogenarian radio preacher Harold Camping presumably went to the bank two days after the world didn’t end and cashed his checks.

If May 20 had indeed been the last night of life on Earth, it would have been well spent at the Henderson Pavilion. You’d think a free classical concert under the stars would offer up the easiest of listening—an opportunity to celebrate the old chestnuts. Instead, Taras Krysa’s Henderson Symphony Orchestra delivered a classic, the defiant thunder of brass bursting through the complacency of a soft spring evening, waking the soul and sending several hundred people home to Google the name of Ottorino Respighi, whose symphony The Pines of Rome was responsible for the atmospheric disturbance.

A classic never loses its ability to surprise. Chestnuts, meanwhile—like precooked awards shows and the dark babble of old preachers—deliver only what’s expected. Chris Milam is no doubt hoping for a classic with his proposal for a just-off-the-south-Strip stadium complex. But one can be forgiven for feeling a familiar, soothing despair at the sight of his renderings, which are identical to the ones he released for his erstwhile Symphony Park stadium complex in February. One sure sign of the chestnut is that it requires no context. This is good, because if you have ever visited the neighborhood around Polaris and Hacienda, you know that there is no context there.

The south Strip, which apparently never let go of its Excalibur-era ambitions to become a Field of Insipid Dreams, was also home to the big May 23 ceremony to announce the erection of a giant Ferris wheel. Oscar Goodman, operating four miles outside the boundaries of his statutory power, brushed aside the Groundhog Day ennui of it all, stepped to the podium and announced that he welcomed the giant carnival ride because “they’re going to see all the way to downtown Las Vegas.” Speaking of chestnuts, have you heard that if the view from the Ferris wheel doesn’t revive downtown, a certain shoe-company call center will?

Check that. I’ve been reading up on this guy Tony Hsieh. He’s got an idea or two up his sleeve. Maybe one of them will wind up a classic.

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