Las Vegas may call itself “The Entertainment Capital of the World,” but sometimes I wonder if we truly deserve the title. Sure, we’ve got all manner of Cirque shows and residencies but touring acts still often skip us. If any of these artists return, though, you should buy your ticket immediately.
Dolly Parton at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace, 2004: If a perfect human being exists, it may just be Dolly Parton. At a rare date in Celine’s house, Dolly displayed her impressive talent— the woman plays a dozen instruments, has written more than 3,000 songs and her voice is still a crystalline wonder— and glowed with enough warmth and charisma to light up the Strip 10 times over. She took us through her lengthy career with an impassioned “Jolene,” a sassy “Why’d You Come in Here Lookin’ Like That,” a heartbreaking “The Grass Is Blue” and sang “9 to 5” while accompanying herself with the clicking of her long, bubblegum pink fingernails. A goddess.
Prince at 3121 at the Rio, 2006: Prince’s shows are never less than spectacular, but this one was something special. It was the day of James Brown’s funeral and Prince’s guest artist was none other than sax great Maceo Parker, Brown’s consigliere of soul. Both seemed to sense that this show needed to be worthy of the Godfather, and both men left everything on the circular stage that night. Sure, there was “Kiss” and “1999” and “Purple Rain,” but there was also “Sex Machine,” delivered as only Prince can.
New Order and Johnny Marr at Boulevard Pool at Cosmopolitan, 2013: I attended this gig with a few old friends who, like me, were high school weirdos. A friend of a friend had a cabana and a lot of Champagne. It felt like we were all finally getting compensated for the times jocks threw stuff at us in the cafeteria—especially once Marr lit into the Smiths’ “Shop- lifters of the World Unite” and a few other of the band’s chestnuts, searing guitar riffs in full effect.
New Order’s glittering sound and colorful visuals melded with the neon lights and video projections of the Strip, creating a 360-degree experience. “Bizarre Love Triangle” and “Blue Monday” had the whole crowd dancing, while a finale of Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart”—as a giant photo of late singer Ian Curtis was projected behind the band—was both reverent and celebratory.
The Fucked Up at Triple B, 2014: I had only heard a few of the Canadian punk band’s songs before I decided to check out this gig, but I—and everyone else—left a raving fan. It’s hard to evoke rage and joy simultaneously, but the Fucked Up do it with their furiously ecstatic anthems to life’s many struggles and few triumphs. Frontman Pink Eyes—a big man with a big personality—reeled through the crowd, holding up the mic for sing-alongs, hugging people, dancing and generally being the guy Henry Rollins wishes he was. The rest of the six-piece band (three guitarists!) provided tight, fierce backing.