Paradox, thy name—at least on a Vegas theater marquee—is Raiding the Rock Vault.
When you tightly and slickly package a genre of music that owes its power to thrill to its unruly defiance, you’ve got to own the incongruity. Can a tribute—even one so passionately felt—simultaneously be a celebration and a sellout? Beneath the pounding backbeat, screaming guitar riffs and exhilarated, on-its-feet audience, the question nags.
Evaluated solely on entertainment terms, the LVH production, recently extended to run through 2014, is one sustained, multimedia bong hit (the good shit). Equal parts hellacious concert, clever theater piece and trivia-peppered historical journey, Rock Vault creates a narrative framework for a seemingly bottomless well of classics, performed by journeymen rockers. Among them: Howard Leese (Heart), Doug Aldrich (Whitesnake), John Payne (Asia), Robin McAuley (Survivor), Paul Shortino (Quiet Riot) and Jay Schellen (Badfinger).
On a lush, Mayan temple set, sprinkled with palm trees and bathed in warm red and blue lighting, the premise kicks off in a post-apocalyptic future when hazmat-suited wanderers uncover the titular rock vault, and the rockers make their individual, sci-fi-style entrances. Once the all-star band assembles, we’re off on a hits-laden tour of the ’60s through the ’80s, the house shaking nonstop to the likes of “Smoke on the Water” (Deep Purple), “My Generation” (The Who), “Light My Fire” (the Doors), “Honky Tonk Woman” (Rolling Stones), “Stairway to Heaven” (Led Zeppelin), “Hotel California” (Eagles), “Here I Go Again” (Whitesnake), “Dream On” (Aerosmith) and on and on.
Paced at a gallop, Rock Vault hurls side stimulation at us: Actors perform sketches taking us from the hippie ’60s to the greedy ’80s; onstage DJs—a fast-talkin’ radio dude and a sexy lady VJ—propel the rock story forward, as does narration and clip highlights of the times (from Nixon and Blazing Saddles to the moon landing and Chappaquiddick) on a quartet of monitors, which also flash scintillating tune tidbits. (Perhaps you didn’t know that when The Doors performed “Light My Fire” on The Ed Sullivan Show, they were asked to replace the word “higher’ with “better,” but Jim Morrison sang “higher” anyway and Sullivan canceled six more planned performances.)
Rock Vault is a combo platter of aural/visual treats in service of an all-star concert with an all-hit set list. As show promotion claims: “classic rock by those who rocked it.” True enough and entertaining as hell (particularly when they tear into AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell”). And yet…
Folding the history of barn-burning rock ’n’ roll into a pretty, carefully arranged box with a Vegas show ribbon around it is vaguely dispiriting. Despite the cred-packin’, they-were-there performers infusing it with authenticity, this production is rock with its hair neatly combed.
Even after the live music wonderfully assaulted my eardrums, I couldn’t shake the symbolism of the piped-in, pre-show music: a string-heavy, orchestral version of “Layla.” A glorious howl from hell-turned-dentist office lullaby.
Nothing rebels forever. Not even rock ’n’ roll.
Got an entertainment tip? Email Steve.Bornfeld@VegasSeven.com.