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Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Fremont Street Experience

Even though it was only ten miles from home, I had a mini-vacation last night. There was a free concert given by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, and I could have just driven in and gone home, but I decided to book myself a hotel room. The location: The Fremond Street Experience.

Las Vegas has two basic tourist areas: the Strip, which is far better known, with its monolothic casinos, each creating a simulacram of some other place or time (Paris, the Middle Ages, Ancient Egypt, etc.) and Downtown, the older, dowdier sister. Downtown was where the first hotels in Las Vegas were, and the center of it was Fremont Street (named after explorer John C. Fremont). This is where the action was, and the lights earned it the nickname of "Glitter Gulch."

But the Strip soon outshone Glitter Gulch, and local businesses hatched a plan to attract tourists back. They created a pedestrian mall and put a canopy on top of it, so the street is kind of like a carnival every night, with digital displays on the canopy. Above, like something out of Thunderdome, visitors zipline over the crowd. You can choose from two ways--sitting, while gripping a pole, or on the belly, hands extended like Superman.

In many ways Fremont Street is like Times Square in New York, but even more so. New York may have the Naked Cowboy, but Fremont Street has grown men dressed like babies (in nothing but diapers and bonnets). They also have the requisite costumed characters hustling for tips. I saw Batman, Spider-Man, Deadpool, and three members of Kiss. There were midgets, Chippendale dancers, rap singers, magicians, puppeteers, and one fellow in a speedo, tinsel around his neck, chanting to himself.

The mall is lined by trendy restaurants and seedy businesses. There are still some old and grand hotels there, including the Four Queens, where I stayed, and the Golden Nugget, the D, and Binions. There is also a strip club, The Girls of Glitter Gulch. Since I was on my own, I did something I haven't done in sixteen years--I went into it. I was told there would be a two-drink minimum, and at ten bucks a drink that seemed reasonable. I had a seat and the girls were kind of average--not the top of the line. So when I was told since I was using a credit card I had to have a four-drink minimum, I beat it out of there. Four drinks? If I drank them all I'd have to crawl out of there.

I headed over to the stage about about seven o'clock for a nine o'clock show. I had a great spot, but soon enough we were told to evacuate so we could come back in again and be checked for weapons and shit like that. The price of living in a modern age. I still had a good view of the stage, and bought myself a huge rum concoction that was mixed with orange creme. But now that I'm old being on my feet for over three hours is something I'm not likely to do much more of.

Jett came on and did an hour and a half of perfect garage-rock. She opened with "Bad Reputation," "Cherry Bomb," and "Do You Wanna Touch Me." She then did a few songs from her latest album, which were greeted politely if a little less enthusiastically. Given the calendar, she made the requisite speech about how Memorial Day is not just a holiday, and closed with "I Love Rock and Roll," which got the crowd howling. She did one encore of "Every Day People."

Jett, who is 57, has been doing this for forty years, and it is too her credit that she still manages to do a professional job. Her tour schedule this year is a lot of small towns--she's not filling arenas anymore, but she goes out and knocks it out of the ball park for appreciate fans of an astonishing range of ages (but mostly the crowd in Vegas were on the wrong side of 40). How many times has she performed "Cherry Bomb?" Thousands? This is where the career of artist and professional cross--you can create the work, but then it is generally required to go out there and do it, night after night. Some bands chose to quit touring, as the grind became too much. But performers like Jett seem to live for it.

Now I'm back home an enjoying a lazy Sunday and recovering. By the way, The Girls of Glitter Gulch will be no longer. They are shuttering in June to make way for a new hotel and casino. I will be tempted no more.

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