The Dude walks into Red Rock Resort. Stop us if you’ve heard this one before. No, literally: Jeff Bridges put out a live album (called, uh, Live) with his backing band the Abiders in September. They recorded it during their previous stint at Red Rock Resort in June, and when Bridges did so, he was standing on the shoulders of giants. Other than the Coen Brothers, this time.
The Las Vegas live album has a long, proud tradition. It also has entries from Ethel Merman and the Dave Matthews Band. They ain’t all gonna be ring-a-ding-ding stalwarts. But we combed through the stacks to bring you 13 albums that span the history of live recording in our various and sundry showrooms and concert halls. They’re not necessarily the best, and it’s not the most comprehensive. But it sure as hell doesn’t have any Phish. (Special thanks to Kristie Nelsen, whose work on LasVegasDiscography.com is tremendous.)
Noel Coward at Las Vegas, by Noel Coward (1955, Desert Inn). May as well start at the beginning. This is the earliest live-from-Las Vegas record out there, and the intro “And now ladies and gentlemen, the Desert Inn takes great pleasure in presenting … Mr. Noel Coward” gives you that chilly time-machine feeling that the best live albums are capable of. Which is good, because Coward sounds like Bela Lugosi singing standards.
Johnnie Ray in Las Vegas, by Johnnie Ray (1957, Desert Inn). Coward pulled it off so well that Mr. Emotion himself returned to the scene of the crime to deliver his proto-R&B two years later. Look, this album is worth checking out just so you’ll understand the name-check in “Come On Eileen.”
Las Vegas Prima Style, by Louis Prima (1958, Sahara). This is just mainlining Prima, in full possession of his power with the classic lineup: Keely Smith and Sam Butera & the Witnesses. This is a weird thing to write about a Prima record, but it’s a little more restrained than some of the later albums. Though Prima’s version of restraint doesn’t exactly mean a stiff upper lip. (Unless we’re maybe talking about it in the AC/DC sense.) The band is just tight as can be, and Prima’s good-natured vamping during Smith’s numbers is dialed down to, oh, 9 1/2. Although it does force you into the uncomfortable position that great, old live albums always do: During Smith’s quieter solo numbers, you kind of come to the slow-horror realization that the casual crowd chatter is made by people who are all probably now dead. So, uh. Get out there and dance?
Jayne Mansfield Busts Up Las Vegas, by Jayne Mansfield (1962, Dunes). Get it? “Busts up?” Do you? Do you get it? Oh, the ’60s. We will never tire of your cheeky double entendres. Mansfield’s breathy come-ons from her short-lived Dunes residency, House of Love, are a cautionary tale in letting former Playmates have singing engagements on Vegas stages. … Wait.
Dean Martin: An Evening of Music, Laughter and Hard Liquor, by Dean Martin (1964, Sands). Why this and not the more historically and culturally significant The Rat Pack: Live at the Sands from a year before? Because the first line is “Drink to me.” Then he goes into “Bourbon From Heaven” and follows with a take on “It’s All Right With Me” that goes I like gamblin’/I like boozin’/Boozin’ makes it pleasant when you’re losin’ … Jack Entratter said play blackjack/and I play because I want a crack, jack.” Dino: God among men, or simply the greatest human being who ever lived?
Bottoms Up/Belle Barth at Las Vegas, by Rusty Warren/Belle Barth (1965, Aladdin/1964 Thunderbird or Caesars Palace). From the grand era of the “party album” when brassy broads roamed the Strip. Warren’s signature tune was “Knockers Up.” It’s exactly what you think it is, and it’s tremendous.
‘Live’ Las Vegas, by Redd Foxx (1967, Aladdin). “This is Las Vegas, Nevada, friends. You might as well relax because your phony neighbors aren’t here.” Redd Foxx, immediately hitting on the city’s secret weapon.
Hello Dummy, by Don Rickles (1968, Sahara). But here’s the king of Las Vegas comedy records. Rickles only put out two albums: this one and 1969’s Don Rickles Speaks! This is the only one that takes his blistering club act and freezes it in amber. You can find out which one of your friends are terrible by playing this album and seeing who’s genuinely offended.
Elvis in Person at the International Hotel, by Elvis Presley (1969, International). You didn’t think we were doing this without the King, did you? This was Elvis’ first live album, and at this point you have come to the reasonable conclusion that living in Las Vegas in the ’60s was the best choice you could possibly make.
Jerry Lee Lewis Live at the International, by Jerry Lee Lewis (1970, International). The Killer still had gas in the tank on this one. Two things stand out: Whether the engineer ginned the crowd noise or not, the audience is positively melting down. The other? That you could have seen Jerry Lee and Elvis onstage at the same hotel in the same 12-month span almost 15 years after they ruled the airwaves.
An Evening With Wally Londo Featuring Bill Slaszo, by George Carlin (1975, UNLV). With all the history Carlin had in Las Vegas, his only recording here came on campus. This one has the debut of his “Baseball-Football” routine, which alone should cement this city in comedy history.
Appetite for Democracy in 3-D, by Guns N’ Roses (2014, Hard Rock Hotel). Recorded during the band’s Joint residency this past spring, you get two CDs’ worth of music and a 3-D concert film on Blu-ray. Did anyone need 3-D Axl? No. No they did not.