Performing on the Vegas Strip has been considered a pinnacle for some and a leveler for others. But Pat DiNizio has never fit easily into categories. Best known as the singer and songwriter of 1980s pop-rockers The Smithereens, DiNizio is actually something of a musical Zelig—or Forrest Gump, if you prefer.
His life has intertwined with generations of legends, from Elvis Presley’s hit-writer Otis Blackwell to Paul McCartney, Madonna and the Ramones. While the Smithereens’ hits were mostly of the “bubbling under” variety, the music’s impact can be heard in the work of Nirvana and Oasis. And there’s the album 11—inspired in name by the original Oceans 11 film, then shamelessly mimicked for the George Clooney remake’s poster art.
I’m far from a legend myself, but it happens that my career intertwines with DiNizio’s. In the beginning, The Smithereens were the virtual house band of my favorite college bar in New Jersey, and one of my first professionally published feature articles was also one of theirs. I even shot what would become one of the band’s first PR photos behind that same bar, later the setting for an official live album.
Imagine seeing the guy you remember playing for pocket change now headlining on the Strip. As Spinal Tap would say, “Too much f*cking perspective.”
DiNizio explores that perspective onstage (no, he doesn’t mention me), contrasting working his family’s garbage truck with getting the nod from Sir Paul. Performing in a sweatshirt, jeans and cyclist hat, the Riviera’s new resident (five nights a week, with a one-year contract) embodies an equally stark contrast to the typical Vegas performer. No glitz, no glamour, not an eyedropper of pizazz. On the other hand, he’s warm, he’s funny, he’s genuine, and his songs and voice are so appealing, only a curmudgeon could leave unentertained.
“You’re not going to see this show anywhere else,” says DiNizio, echoing a line often used by Strip performers, but never more truthfully—or for the same reason: “I think people are hungering for entertainment that’s real and heartfelt and has some soul.”
The show, Confessions of a Rock Star, co-conceived and produced by Riviera CEO Andy Choy (a longtime fan), is more than just a survey of DiNizio’s hits with The Smithereens—including “Blood & Roses,” “Only a Memory” and “A Girl Like You.” Backed by a skeletal rhythm section, DiNizio traces his own musical and cultural evolution with uncensored stories, home movies and cover songs equally hilarious and touching. And by the way, if this sounds all warm and fuzzy, keep in mind that the guitars are loud enough that they have to turn the amps toward the back wall.
- Confessions of a Rock Star
- Wednesday-Monday, 7 p.m., $29.95
- The Riviera, 794-9433
“We felt we had to do something different,” Choy says. “I knew he was a great musician but also a rock historian, so I saw in that a chance to do a show that could attract a broad audience.
“We’re not going after Armin Van Buuren, LMFAO or Lil Jon. [And] it’s an alternative to paying $300 to go see Celine Dion.”
The “script,” so to speak, is still developing nightly, and knowing Pat, it will probably continue to do so, especially since The Smithereens are still performing and recording (DiNizio will take occasional nights off for their shows). He’s also residing in the Riviera itself, so interactions with guests will likely find their way into the act.
“I was frankly stunned when Andy offered me a one-man show in Las Vegas with total creative control,” he says. “The show is remarkably uncompromised, but it’s a fun show that everyone can relate to, and I really hope the audience feels better when they leave.”
Of course, whether DiNizio can find an audience here remains a significant question mark. Still, on the show’s second preview night, with virtually no advance advertisement, two longtime fans visiting town were waiting to meet him after the performance. If Choy has things figured right, they won’t be the only ones.