4 Days in Vegas: Robert Plant, Raiding the Rock Vault & Santana

By Jeb Wright

While a lot of great music trots through the Midwestern part of the US of A, several acts and events just seem to stay away.  So, instead of not covering these artists on Classic Rock Revisited, the prudent thing to do is to find an old friend, hop on a plane and go to where the action is located… which in this case was Las Vegas! I was invited to review Carlos Santana’s show at the House of Blues at the Mandalay Bay, which sounded pretty awesome, so I did a good old fashioned Google search and discovered a few other cool things going on during the week of the show.  One quick phone call to my friend of nearly three decades, Dr. Craig Keever, and a plan quickly fell into place. 

We agreed we should attend Santana’s final night on this stretch of his residency at the House of Blues, but we also decided to catch Robert Plant – at a bowling alley, mind you—as well as the taping of Metal Meltdown at The Hard Rock featuring Great White, Skid Row, Extreme and Twisted Sister.  Why not call up my buddy Doug Aldrich as well while we are in town and check out the show he performs in called Raiding the Rock Vault?  Four nights and four concerts… sounds like a great time!  

Craig drove over from Arkansas and we were off to Wichita.  We boarded the plane and headed west.  In a couple of hours we were on the ground and in the cab line.  In front of us was a cute little bartender with an adorable nose ring from Oklahoma City.  We made small talk and then watched helplessly as she got moved into a cab ahead of us by the guy who worked there and made all the decisions of who goes where.  I would have made the same call.  Eventually, we were picked up and taken to our hotel where we checked in.  We then ventured out to the LINQ to check out the shops and discover the Brooklyn Bowl, our first rock and roll destination of the trip. 

Day 1

Robert Plant & the Sensational Space Shifters
The Brooklyn Bowl
Las Vegas, NV
May 28, 2015

Set List:
The Wanton Song | Turn It Up | Black Dog | Rainbow| Going to California | Spoonful | The Lemon Song | Little Maggie | No Place to Go/Dazed and Confused  | What Is and What Should Never Be | Fixin' to Die | Hoochie Coochie Man/You Need Love/Whole Lotta Love/Who Do You Love/Whole Lotta Love

A Stolen Kiss | Rock and Roll

After smashing down an entire wood oven baked peperoni pizza, we found the Brooklyn Bowl and our tickets were waiting for us at Will Call.  We went in and had to admit this was a pretty cool place… Bowling done Vegas style all the way!  There is bowling with big screen TVs and a bar and a restaurant and a small concert venue.  There were people bowling above us.  They got to bowl before the show and then got to sit in booths and watch the concert; all for what we were told was a tiny price of $1,200! 

Down below we chatted with a couple of interesting dudes who were there bumming rooms at a friend’s house for the summer.  One looked like he had some sort of sales job, the other smelled of trust fund money.  Either way they were cool and helped pass the time before the lights went low.  The opening act was JD McPherson, who was kinda sorta like a rockabilly guy who reminded me of the Stray Cats.  He was good, in fact he was really good and a very fun act to open the show.  As good as he was, everyone there, including the opening act, was there to see a living icon of rock and roll in Robert Plant.

Plant came on and did not disappoint.  He looks more like a magical wizard, with his long flowing locks and goatee surrounding a well worn face, than the Golden God of yesteryear.  While he does not attempt the screeches and screams of his youth, his normal singing register is fully intact.  In fact, his voice sounded amazing.  Much of the set was Led Zep and much of the rest were songs from his latest release, Lullaby and... The Ceaseless Roar.  There were a few blues standards thrown in for flavor, the best of which was “Spoonful.” 

Of the new songs “Turn It Up” and “Rainbow” were the strongest, and of the Zep material the winners were “Going to California” and “What Is and What Should Never Be.”  Both of these tunes stayed true to the original and that Zeppelin magic was dripping off the walls.  Elsewhere, the Zep tunes that brought it on home were “Whole Lotta Love,” “Black Dog” and “The Lemon Song” all made bluesier than the recorded versions.  Plant’s band was paid to be excellent, and they delivered big time.

Plant scored major points with the crowd during “Going to California” when he twice told those with cell phones in the air to put their phones away.  Later in the set when a heckler was drunk and shouting stupid ramblings, Robert simply looked upstairs and politely said, “I can hear you.  You can fuck off.” 

It was pure musical bliss and a great way to open our rock and roll vacation.  After the show, Craig and I were walking the Vegas Strip in awe of what we had just been a part of.  We also discovered a place by the New York New York casino called Shake Shack, which served ice cream and burgers and fries deep into the night; this place would become somewhat of our ‘home base’ after the shows. 

Day II

Raiding the Rock Vault
The Tropicana
Las Vegas, NV
May 29, 2015

Set List:
My Generation | All Along the Watchtower | Honky Tonk Woman | All Right Now | Stairway to Heaven | Smoke on the Water | Hotel California | We Are the Champions | Medley: More Than a Feeling – Another Brick in the Wall – Dreams – Dream On – Kashmir – Breakfast in America – Carry on Wayward Son | Living On a Prayer | Heartbreaker | Separate Ways | Medley: Eye of the Tiger – Sharp Dressed Man – Pour Some Sugar On Me – Addicted to Love - Alone – Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For – Here I Go | Jukebox Hero | Highway to Hell | Jump

The next night, after a trip to Fremont Street where old men in thongs were charging people money to have their picture taken with them—you don’t see that sort of things in Kansas—we headed over to the Tropicana to meet up with two good friends.  Ludovic Curtet is a life long friend of mine from Paris, France who is a world class trainer and a man I was once pulled over by the police with when we were trying to fly our car---it’s a long story; The other, CRR’s own Roy Rahl, a man who has lent his skills to interviews and reviews for the website on many occasions.  We met up and formed a rock and roll foursome, indeed!  We then met up with my friend and amazing guitarist, Doug Aldrich, who bumped us up to VIP and we got a booth in front of the stage.  After meeting his amazing little son and hanging out for a bit we sat down, got some beverages and prepared for the show to begin.  

Raiding the Rock Vault is a fun time for any fan of rock and roll music.  There is some Vegas style cheesiness to it, but it is all in good fun.  The dancing/acting girls are H.O.T. and the backing screens are filled with great photos and facts throughout the show.  There are even some funny skits, the best being when the ‘rock star’ being interviewed has stuffed his pants with a true foot long!  While funny and entertaining, the music is why the crowd was there and this band did not disappoint.

Raiding the Rock Vault is made up of Howard Leese [Guitar] (Heart, Bad Company), Doug Aldrich [Guitar] (Whitesnake, DIO), Robin McAuley [Lead Vocals] (MSG, Survivor), Paul Shortino [Vocals] (Rough Cutt, Quiet Riot), Jay Schellen [Drums] (Hurricane, Asia), Andrew Freeman [Lead Vocals and Guitars] (Lynch Mob, The Offspring), Hugh McDonald [Bass] (Bon Jovi, Ringo Starr), Michael T. Ross [Keyboards] (Lita Ford, Hardline, Angel), Mark Boals [Lead Vocals, Bass] (Dokken, Ted Nugent, Yngwie Malmsteen), Carol-Lyn Liddle [Lead Vocals] (Masters of Rock). While the personnel list is long, everyone is really there to see Aldrich shred, along with his cohort / Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Howard Leese.  These two are the stars of the show, and they roll through so many of rock’s greatest songs that it is hard to keep up with.

The only drawback on this night was Paul Shortino, as he flubbed lyrics to both “Hotel California” and “Jukebox Hero.”  There is no forgiveness for this, as the guy simply blew it.  The other vocalists were all great, but none better than Carol-Lyn Liddle.  She killed it every time she opened her mouth.  She handled Pat Benatar, Stevie Nicks and Heart with ease.  Just as Aldrich and Leese stole the show musically, she stole it vocally.  Robin McAuley was the best male vocal, and when he came out looking and sounding like Bon Scott on “Highway to Hell” he brought the house down.   The ‘awwwwww that’s adorable” moment came when Doug had his little boy join him on stage, even holding a little guitar for the set-ending “Jump.”

This show comes highly recommended for anyone on vacation in Vegas, as it is a total walk down Memory Lane. After the show, if you buy some merchandise, the entire band will sign it for you.  The four of us waited for the meet and greet to end and then talked with Doug and Howard for a bit.  Ludovic headed out and Roy, Craig and I headed to the New York New York for more beverages and some chili fries, where we met a guy from Kansas polishing off two orders of said chili fries with ease.  Small world, good fries.


Great White
The Joint
Las Vegas NV
May 30, 2015

Set List:
I’ve Got Something for You | Desert Moon | Lady Red Light | Face the Day | Shot in the Dark | House of Broken Love | Angel Song |Save Your Love | Mista Bone | Big Goodbye | Can’t Shake It | Hard to Say Goodbye | Rock Me | Once Bitten Twice Shy

Next up was an evening of Heavy Metal, ‘80s style, as four bands gathered together to record an upcoming Pay-Per-View and Blu-Ray, DVD release titled Metal Meltdown, presented by Rock Fuel Media, at The Joint in Las Vegas.  Before the show we met up with publicist extraordinaire Todd Brodginski and got our tickets.  We entered the arena as Great White took the stage. 

The event was hosted by VH1 Classic That Metal Show host Eddie Trunk, and between acts he did his best to get the crowd fired up.  In all fairness, to do a true review it must be mentioned that the venue was far from capacity and the crowd was a bit lackluster in enthusiasm.  There was something in the air, and in-between acts Trunk did his best to get the crowd into it.  He succeeded for the most part.

One of the major issues, other than with Great White, was the volume of the show.  I am sure it will sound amazing on the release, as they will get the sound from the mixing board… but live, in the front-of-house system, it was simply too loud and made it impossible to hear the vocals from our vantage point.  Great White, however, had the best sound man in the house and he did an amazing job as they sounded crystal clear.  

The band opened with the first song from their 2012 album Elation, titled “(I’ve Got) Something for You.”  This song, and album, represents a band on a mission, as they are without longtime front man Jack Russell.  Singer Terry Ilous, formerly of the band XYZ, was on fire and hit all the notes and kept the crowd involved looking like a true rock star the entire evening.  Guitarist Mark Kendall hit every note, every solo and every fill with expertise.  He has a good axe-tone and a passion in his playing.  He is solid as a rock, and looks damn cool on-stage playing the band’s best known songs.   In fact, the entire Great White band was solid as a rock, and even though they were out of place as the opening act, they took it all in stride and delivered a rocking set.  The entire band seemed to be enjoying the opportunity to be a part of this unique event.

The band’s set focused on the years from 1986-1990; a wise move as the crowd wanted to hear the hits.  Great White flawlessly pumped out fan favorites “Lady Red Light,” “Desert Moon,” “Shot in the Dark” and many more.  Of course the massive hits “Save Your Love,” “Rock Me” and the Ian Hunter classic “Once Bitten, Twice Shy” were the best received.  At the end of the day, Great White proved they are back and their future is bright. 

Skid Row
The Joint
Las Vegas NV
May 30, 2015

Set List:

Big Guns | Sweet Little Sister | 18 and Life | Give It the Gun | Riot Act | In a Darkened Room | Thick is the Skin | Making a Mess | Psycho Therapy (Ramones cover) | Psycho Therapy | I Remember You | Monkey Business | Slave to the Grind |Youth Gone Wild

Skid Row came on next and powered out a loud, too loud, actually, set of the best tunes they have to offer.  New singer Tony Harnell sounded good, from what we could hear.  He is not Bach, but he is acceptable and he was enjoying his new-found role with the band. 

For a bunch of aging whiskey-soaked rock hounds, the Skids really delivered musically and, believe it or not, ethically.  They took a lot of time to thank their fans for allowing them to play music for a living, which was classy.  They did a killer version of their ballad “I Remember You” and then beat everyone over the head with “Monkey Business,” “Slave to the Grind” and “Youth Gone Wild.”  Bass player Rachel Bolin explained to the crowd how much Skid Row loved The Ramones and then took lead vocals on the classic punk tune “Psycho Therapy.” 

At the end of the day, the band performed well.  They are a true greasy, grimy rock band that got lumped in, as did Great White, with the Hair Band era, but don’t be fooled: these guys are way more about Sabbath than they are about Bon Jovi! Skid Row is about cranking it up and cranking it out more than they are about Aqua Net!  Classic Rock Revisited is really looking forward to discovering what this band comes up with in on their next EP!

The Joint
Las Vegas, NV
May 30, 2015

Set List:
Decadence Dance | Li'l Jack Horny | When I'm President | Get the Funk Out | More Than Words | Money (In God We Trust) | It ('s a Monster) | Pornograffitti | When I First Kissed You | Suzi (Wants Her All Day What?) | He-Man Woman Hater (Including "Flight of the Wounded Bumblebee" Intro) | Song for Love | Hole Hearted | Play with Me | Cupid's Dead |

Extreme was up next.  Tonight would see the band play their multi-platinum Pornagrafitti in it’s entirety to celebrate the albums 25th anniversary.  The band was simply spot-on amazing, despite the vocals being hard to hear.   What we could hear, however, sounded amazing.  The guitar work was loud in the front of house mix, and Nuno Bettencourt stunned everyone with his mastery of his instrument.  He hit every note, every squeal, every run, every tapping part and every strum with ease.  He is a huge talent that, if truth be told, outside of guitar circles, never got his due. 

The band brought the house down with the acoustic “More Than Words.” Nuno nearly had two rock star tantrums when he complained about the spotlights, and later when no roadie showed up to remove a mic stand that was in his way.  He even said, “Fuck the DVD” at one point.  It was classless, and made him appear to be a spoiled rock star and a bit of an a-hole. Both he and the audience got over it.  The other moments, the musical moments, he simply stole the show.   I am looking forward to the release of this show just to watch him do what he did on this evening and to see if they allow the footage of his ‘attitude’ to remain. 

Extreme were, ahem, extremely good on this night. 

Twisted Sister
The Joint
Las Vegas, NV
May 30, 2015

Set List:
What You Don't Know (Sure Can Hurt You) | The Kids Are Back | Stay Hungry | The Beast | Shoot 'Em Down | You Can't Stop Rock 'n' Roll | I Believe in Rock 'n' Roll |Under the Blade | I Am (I'm Me) | We're Not Gonna Take It | The Fire Still Burns | The Price | Burn in Hell (With drum solo) | I Wanna Rock

Come Out and Play | S.M.F.

Twisted Sister has two of the best known hard rocking anthems of the 1980s in “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and “I Wanna Rock.”  In-between, one has to be a huge fan to know the tunes and there are some really good ones including “The Kids are Back,” “Burn in Hell,” “You Can’t Stop Rock ‘n’ Roll” and “Under the Blade.” 

The evening was getting late and many snuck out as the band played their hearts out… Funny, I didn’t see Doug Aldrich in the crowd… Anyway…  Never an overly talented band, Twisted can best be described as a band that does the best with what they have and tonight was no exception.  They played hard and loud as the headliners for Metal Meltdown.  This will be a successful production, as the tunes were there, the crowd did come more alive as the night went on and there were a lot of trips down Memory Lane.  All in all, it was a grand success.

After the show, we went back to the Strip and Craig and I discussed the concert in-depth over ice cream and fries at the Shake Shack, deep into the early hours.

Day IV

House of Blues
Las Vegas, NV
May 31, 2015

Set List: Power of Peace Intro

Toussaint L'Overture | Freedom in Your Mind | Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen | Oye como va | Maria Maria | Foo Foo | Corazón espinado | Jin-go-lo-ba | Evil Ways/A Love Supreme | Love Makes the World Go Around | Europa (Earth's Cry, Heaven's Smile) | Chill Out (Sácalo) Tequila | Smooth

Soul Sacrifice | Saideira

Four concerts in four days in Las Vegas appear easy on paper, but as Craig and I were finding out, reality is a bitch!  We were tired and eating Advil like candy! We were weary and we were watching the gas tank quickly empty.  But we soldiered up, and we would do it all again!

We had a few hours to kill before the final event of the trip, so we shopped, ate and walked around in 100 degree heat and talked and laughed and even stopped for more food and beverages at Twin Peaks on The Strip.  Greasy food and scantily clad woman fit in perfectly with a rock and roll road trip!  After catching our breath, we headed to the Mandalay Bay! Next stop: Santana.

Seeing such a huge personality, with such a grand band, in such a small venue was a true treat.  Carlos was the ultimate band leader on this evening.  He controlled the stage and had the audience eating out of his hand as his fans, me included, literally danced the night away to his Latino flavored special blend of rock and roll.

The House of Blues was the perfect venue, and when he does his next residency there, it is a must-see event.  There was so much music that it was nearly overwhelming!  The band members were amazing professionals as they mixed in their talented improv into their solos.  The percussion was mind-blowing as was every solo performance (including an amazing rendition of “Roxanne” by the Police, which was sung by the rhythm guitarist near-perfect during his introduction).  

The star of the show is, obviously Carlos Santana, as he invented this Latin-infused rock genre of music.  He played his ass off and put everything he had into his performance.  His wife, Cindy Blackman-Santana, came on stage for a song and stayed for a drum solo.  When she was finished, Carlos lured her out in front of her drum kit and tricked her into a kiss.  The only real weirdness of the night came when Santana slammed a recent boxing match between Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and Manny Pacquiao, saying it was more like watching Dancing with the Stars than it was a boxing match.  He actually got into a full-on lecture that lasted several minutes making one wonder how much money he lost on the fight!

Commentary aside, the band was, as mentioned on-fire as they performed his most well-known songs, including “Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen,” “Oye como va,” “Evil Ways” and Smooth” but they also jammed, and jammed and jammed some more on every song that made the set list.  The twin vocalists were fun to watch.  The concert breathed life into every person in attendance, including the musicians. 

This was truly a case of watching a master at work.  Santana loves what he does.  He oozes pure music and creativity at every turn.  He is both spiritual and a child of the universe who even asked the crowd how many people may have taken hallucinogenic drugs.  He seemed pleased with the loud response.  It was done in jest, however, and more of a way to set up the part of the show where he played homage to his performance at Woodstock.  This writer would go see this show again, and again and again.  In fact, many of the aforementioned Shake Shack calories were burned off dancing all night long to the amazing music this band performed!

After the show, Craig and I decided to head back to the hotel.  The hour was getting late and we had a 6 AM flight back to the Land of Oz.  Unfortunately for us, the way back passed directly in front of the Shake Shack, and since we had just performed a couple of hours of cardio, we found time for one more shake and fries!

The Wrap Up

Musically, Santana, along with Robert Plant, were the best shows of the road trip.  These two artists come from a time where music mattered more than fame, MTV, record sales or anything else.  For Robert Plant and Carlos Santana, music was all that mattered- the rest (money, fame, free drugs, free booze, free sex) was all icing on the cake. Later, in each of their careers, these were things they had to learn to deal with.  At the end of the day, these great artists did succeed, and they are still on the road in 2015 teaching us that music, in and of itself, is what matters.

In retrospect, all of the performances were good, some more life-altering than others.  The Rock Vault was fun in every aspect and is a must-see for any rock fan spending a few evenings in Las Vegas.  Metal Meltdown was a tribute to ‘80s rock that will be welcomed by fans of that genre.  Plant and Santana, however, took things to a higher place.  These men are true Rock Gods and on this trip to Vegas they confidently proved to us all that they were a part of something special.

We witnessed music from a couple of different eras of rock and roll.  As fans of these eras, we know time is moving on and what made rock and roll so special is not often heard in today’s music.  We are getting older and maybe that is some of the sadness we feel when trying to appreciate today’s acts.

Instead of being grumpy and complaining, however, we should instead champion our music, as all of the artists on our Rock and Roll Road Trip to Las Vegas proved they are still alive and well.  We don’t need the music to die, instead we need to learn from these great artists, all of them we encountered over the four day trip, and mold our next generation of musicians to make music for the right reasons.  Is there hope for music?  Of course there is!  And if it doesn’t work out in the long run… we still have Las Vegas and we still have Shake Shack!