SONIC REDUCER Ho, ho, hum. I may have to take it up with a certain chunky fellah in the red clown suit, because just between you and me, I can’t take the pressure. I’m sure you understand — the stress to plonk down the bones for the most lavish holiday booty. To have the raddest New Year’s Eve. To return or regift those less-than-apt presents in the weeks to follow. To end the year with a big bang, sinking your teeth deeply into the ass of life and emerging with stories to tell and most limbs intact.
Right up there with all of the above is the pressure to have fun in Las Vegas. I mean, you have to be a complete loser to not enjoy yourself, not eke out some happening in Vegas that had to stay in Vegas, right? After all, America’s sin city is busy recasting itself as the country’s entertainment capital, building casinos and ripping up the strip late into the night — surely they have some poison that tempts a princely palette?
Alas, Vegas can be such a tease. Exhibit one: Prince, supposedly deep into an indefinite residency at his new club, 3121 (the branding of this year’s album continues), at the Rio hotel but instead taking every weekend off till New Year’s from his Friday and Saturday gig. Caveat: don’t jingle-jangle into town expecting to see his purple highness shake it dutifully, night in and out, à la Frankie, Elvis, Wayne Newton, Barry Manilow, all the big cheeses. Admittedly, even at $125–<\d>$312 a pop, it would have been worth it — to see the larger-than-life mercurial Minneapolis mini at his relatively intimate 900-seat venue, which is said to be under the Purple 1’s sole artistic control, while the adjoining 3121 Jazz Cuisine is overseen by his personal chef. It’s the latest sign of the times: the 48-year-old was following his inclusion in an obligatory animated feature, Happy Feet, and his now-you-see-him-now-you-don’t Net presence (this year he shut down his longtime site shortly after fielding a Webby Lifetime Achievement Award for being the first major artist to release an entire album online exclusively) with a distinct signifier of a rapidly settling-down showbiz icon: a stint in Vegas. Isn’t this American entertainment’s Valhalla, where major stars come to die? “Now if he gets fat like Elvis …,” opined alexnevermind319 on fan site www.prince.org. I pictured the man socking back in a beige McMansion, crusting elegantly in a La-Z-Boy, heavily partaking of TiVo, inhaling fistfuls of Corn Nuts, and wondering if he’s in danger of becoming a corn nut himself, burned out on the bright lights that mask the sun-baked void after only a mere month.
I was clearly conflicted, so I sought solace in a kicky, clean-fun but self-aggrandizing Pussycat Dolls revue at Cesar’s Pure nightclub (drinking game: take a swig every time the half-nekkid hotties urge “Sing along, ladies”) and a geriatrically inclined ’n’ reclined show by Neil Diamond impersonator Jay White, a genuine sing-alike (Diamond himself is quoted in White’s ad: “Jay, keep singing so I can stay home and relax”) who too often shatters the illusion (“Everyone got their Christmas shopping done?” the would-be solitary man queried amid his re-creation of Diamond’s July 4, 1976, Vegas show).
But what am I complaining about? History, musical or otherwise, is often reworked here, toward new, profitable, and vanity-fluffing ends. I dug the Liberace Museum — including its cranky caretakers, who forbade us from cruising through its two buildings in a mere half hour — but you don’t have to look far beyond Liberace’s chinchilla-trimmed capes and mirror-tiled roadster to glimpse the sadness beneath the flash: my partner in Vegas grime read the fine print in the trophy room and noted that many are for simply giving talks and such. Did even the highest-paid entertainer in Vegas history (Liberace took home $50,000 a week in 1955 for turning it out regularly at the Riviera) and the man who enlightened Elvis himself about the power of glitter really need to pad his brag board?
Perhaps size does matter — Las Vegas is as much about industrial-scale entertainment as it is about taking your money in a wholesale sorta way. Judging from the recent low-key array of musical offerings — Toni Braxton was Prince’s only real rival last week — the Purple Pachyderm looms large here, the one truly musically innovative performer currently ensconced in Vegas. But can we say any Vegas-level dues are getting paid at all when Prince keeps the length of his engagement foggily indefinite, the time he goes onstage set vaguely after 10 p.m. — can’t he take the heat, sweat, and slog like a regularly gigging musician? It made you respect those crack, hard-working players behind small fries like White even more. In announcing Prince’s Vegas lounge act, a rep claimed Prince “wants to bring raw, live music back to Las Vegas.” So bring it already.<\!s>
Fri. and Sat. (after Dec. 28, but don’t count on it), 10 p.m.
3121 at the Rio
3700 W. Flamingo, Las Vegas, Nev.