Las Vegas Sun, June 4, 1999

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Costello’s rule creates a
smoky situation at the Joint


Geoff Carter

Finally I see Elvis. Declan MacManus — Elvis Costello to the folks at home — played a two-hour acoustic set at the Hard Rock on May 29. I wore slacks.

A bunch of fellow Elvis aficionados joined me in celebrating the once-angry young man's Vegas debut, to marvel at his vocal control (he pulled away from the microphone and projected more than once), to admire Steve Nieve's dexterous piano work and, finally, to pay our respects to the songs: "Allison." "That Other Girl." "Everyday I Write the Book." "God's Comic." "Watching the Detectives."

The audience sat, rapt, quiet as church mice, except for a crowd in back that murmured through even the quietest moments. I was annoyed — you've got your entire life to talk, right? — until a friend told me something later that put the murmuring in context: Costello declared the Joint showroom a nonsmoking venue the night of the performance.

"They might have mentioned that on the ticket," my friend said, firing up another Camel, "before I pay a hundred-plus bucks for a seat. We just went in the back and lit up. (Expletive) him. I saw Costello 10 years ago in Los Angeles and he wasn't half the baby."

He had other complaints, which all seemed to come back to the same point of contention: Costello had declared cabaret rules for a noncabaret show. If Costello was playing to 80 people (my friend reasoned), he would be more than justified in declaring house rules. But a crowd of 1,200 — that's concert numbers, not an intimate showroom crowd. Like Neil Young's moratorium on alcohol — he closed the bar as the show began — Costello's rules called for the audience to make a concession to the intimacy of the event. Which raises the question: How much intimacy can be had in a 1,200-seat room with no booze and/or cigarettes to put the crowd at ease?

The fault doesn't lie with the performer. New Las Vegas needs to re-examine its approach to live entertainment by looking at the old model. In old Vegas, Costello's show would have had table service (and tables), any rules he laid down would have been spelled out at the moment a ticket was purchased, and — most importantly — his Vegas stand would have been spread over two or three days and the venue would have set an attendance cap far below critical mass.

Limp Bizkit? Take out all the chairs, tape off the sharp edges and let the boys trash the place. But for sit-down shows, if you're not comfortable in your surroundings, you may as well set those glorious songs on fire. Costello's show was worth standing on my head to see, but in this town — a town built on guest relations — no one should have to.

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Las Vegas Sun, June 4, 1999


Geoff Carter reviews Elvis Costello and Steve Nieve, Saturday, May 29, 1999, The Joint, Las Vegas, NV.


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