In 1959, Rickles landed in the epicenter of Las Vegas: the Sahara’s Casbar. Three shows a night: Midnight, 2:30 a.m. and 5:10 a.m. Something for the steak-and-eggs crowd getting up; more for the scotch and soda crowd still up.
He bounced around in subsequent years—the Riviera, back to the Sahara, the Golden Nugget, the Desert Inn and now the Orleans. He was there at the Rat Pack-and-Jack Daniel’s-fueled moment when Vegas became Vegas, and he has the cartographic credentials to conjure up the lingering ambience of the long-gone titans of a jet-set era.
At a time when the recent death of Steve Rossi makes it painfully clear that the book on the age of swinging Vegas has painfully few pages left in it, Rickles, 88, still brings the old-school thunder. If the recent Spike TV special, One Night Only: An All-Star Tribute to Don Rickles, is any indication, he’s more beloved now than he has been since he was lighting up the Dean Martin roasts. From the time “The Matador” sounds, Rickles is a verbal whirlwind onstage, deftly disemboweling audience members with the same winking effrontery he honed in the city’s age of cigarettes and dapper hats.
He still has the full band behind him, and still closes with a song, the charming “I’m a Nice Guy.” You get the sense that this is show business the way it was meant to be conducted: with sophistication and effort—an expert mixture of highbrow style with a lowbrow heart. Just the way a leering Deano would’ve wanted it, while he caramel-coated every quasi-sincere note.
Rickles returns to the Orleans August 16-17. It might not be at 2:30 in the morning—and they might not let you fire up a Lucky in the front row—but you can’t possibly do any better. Even if ol’ pal Frank climbs out of his hole, slips on a dusty trilby and belts out “Summer Wind.”
– Jason Scavone