[The Incidental Tourist]

Ready to rock? Las Vegas residencies are swinging from solo artists to bands

(From left) Journey’s Neal Schon, Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott.
Illustration: AP Photos

All these colossal Las Vegas residency shows are really about a few musical moments. Sure, the theaters are fabulous and the production elements are amped up beyond typical concert fare, but it all comes down to those songs and sounds that resonate with ticket buyers.

For me, opening night of Def Leppard Hits Vegas: The Sin City Residency at Planet Hollywood’s Zappos Theater on August 14 was highlighted by those MTV hits from 1987’s Hysteria, but specifically it was that trademark Def Leppard dual guitar sound, as conveyed that night by Phil Collen and Vivian Campbell. To me, that sounds like a summer ride in a friend’s car to hit the mall on a Friday night.

The guy sitting one spot over probably couldn’t pinpoint one or two songs that made the show great, because he was losing his mind for the entire two hours. He stayed standing and singing for the duration and exploded with excitement whenever Def Leppard played a rarity or a deep cut, like opener “Die Hard the Hunter” or the never-performed live “Let Me Be the One.” His wife, who turned out to be local radio personality Mercedes Martinez, was supportive of his fandom, if not quite equally enthused. I get it.

Def Leppard started the first show of its residency on time and never let the energy dip, rotating through some of those forgotten older tracks and an acoustic mini-set sprinkled, of course, with the big arena-rock hits. This is a band that knows exactly what its fans need, and it’s happy to oblige, making the show an ideal residency on the Strip right now. Live Nation and Planet Hollywood are likely working on more shows beyond September 7’s currently scheduled closer.

It’s crucial that Def Leppard still sounds like Def Leppard, like cruising to the mall for me, or like whatever Martinez’s husband remembers when he hears “Pour Some Sugar on Me.” And because the entire band is onstage re-creating our musical memories live, it might be a little easier for rock residencies like this one to succeed compared to a more Vegas-traditional solo performance by a legacy artist. Celine Dion’s voice remains impeccable in 2019, but she’s an exception. Superstar singers have to contend with the dry desert air and still crank out a pristine performance night after night in the residency format, and they can’t ever hide behind a scorching guitar solo because no one paid to hear a nameless (if talented) backing musician play over a brand-name star.

That’s just one reason we’re seeing more new residencies from rock acts like Aerosmith (back at Park Theater September 21), Journey (opening at the Colosseum October 9) and Foreigner (starting at Venetian Theatre January 24). It’s becoming increasingly difficult to identify solo acts in any genre that are relevant and popular enough to draw big audiences, but that’s not the case for rock music, where nostalgia reigns supreme. The biggest bands of the ’90s and ’00s (think Radiohead, Coldplay, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Foo Fighters and Green Day) likely couldn’t sell concert tickets in Vegas like their counterparts from the ’70s and ’80s. Imagine Strip marquees with the names Queen, Metallica, U2 and (classic-lineup) Guns N’ Roses in bright lights. It doesn’t just seem like a dream.

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An award-winning writer who has been documenting life in Las Vegas for more than 20 years, Brock Radke covers entertainment ...

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