From the music blaring through the Hard Rock Hotel’s speakers to the spandex tights adorning its walls, ’80s rock and metal have helped the property live up to its name since it opened in 1995. These days, however, you’re just as likely to see the genre’s stars on the hotel-casino’s stages as in its display cases.
The Hard Rock has carved out a successful niche hosting residencies by hard-rock and hair-metal icons like Def Leppard, Guns N’ Roses and Mötley Crüe, whose 2012 run drew an estimated 36,000 fans to the Joint over three weeks. The momentum shows no sign of slowing. Crüe men Vince Neil, Nikki Sixx, Mick Mars and Tommy Lee return for 12 more shows beginning September 18, and Hard Rock reps say tickets sales have far outpaced those of the first residency.
“The proof is in the pudding,” says AEG Live VP of Booking Bobby Reynolds, who has helmed the Hard Rock’s residency renaissance. “Our marketing plan and budget is real similar to the first one. Why are we so far ahead of where we were last time? Because of the fan experience. Because of word of mouth. Because people had a great time, and either they want to come back again or they told their friends.”
Though the Hard Rock had made forays into residencies with past stints by Santana and Tiësto, the property began to pursue a different type of multiple-date run before the new Joint was completed in 2009, part of an effort to market the off-Strip casino—which can’t rely on foot traffic—as a tourist destination with its own distinct draws.
Taking a page from AEG Live’s successful residencies—Celine Dion, Elton John and others—at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace, the Hard Rock sought to translate its model of limited, exclusive engagements to a slightly younger, rock-savvy crowd. Eighties rock quickly emerged as a prime candidate. It’s a genre rife with milestones to celebrate, including 2012’s 25th anniversaries of Def Leppard’s Hysteria and Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction albums.
But timing alone isn’t enough to get fans to flock to Las Vegas. “We’re not looking for a greatest-hits show; we’re looking for unique opportunity,” Reynolds says. That has meant providing fans with a show they can’t see in their hometown. It might include an unusual setlist, like Def Leppard’s full Hysteria run-through, or a big-budget production a band can’t bring on tour, as with Mötley Crüe’s pyro-loaded, hyper-theatrical 2012 residency.
It has also meant upping the exclusivity, by restricting when and where a band can tour, blacking out feeder markets like Southern California to compel fans to travel to Las Vegas. Not that they seem to need much convincing. Much of the crowd at residencies comprises original fans—those who have grown up with the band, and, now in their 30s and 40s, land in the demographic casinos crave.
“They’re older now, they have money, they have jobs, they take time off,” Reynolds says. “They can afford to go to the steakhouse prior to the show. They can afford to party after.”
While the metal model is working, Reynolds says the hotel is by no means confined to the genre; rather, he explains, success has only bolstered a confidence to branch out. “I think people are starting to take notice now. I think fans start to look to see what’s going on at the Hard Rock, and that’s always an exciting time for us.”
Mötley Crüe September 18-October 6; Wednesday, Friday, Saturday & Sunday, 9 p.m.; $46-$196. The Joint, 693-5222.