Music

Sonic Flashback: Ramones at UNLV’s Student Union (December 7, 1984)

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The Ramones played the Student Union in ’84—and Dennis Mitchell wasn’t there to see the end.
Photo: George DuBose/AP
Dennis Mitchell

By 1984, the dearth of cool concerts in Las Vegas had subsided to the point where we could enjoy shows on a more regular basis by artists who hadn’t been embraced by local commercial radio. The mass acceptance of MTV seemed to clear the path for rock and pop bands to stop bypassing Las Vegas simply because it was Las Vegas. In late ’82 we actually had second-row tickets for a Talking Heads’ performance at the Aladdin, only to have it canceled the week before. 1983 had seen great shows by The Kinks and Stray Cats at the Convention Center (where The Beatles had played in ’64), a venue soon to be supplanted by the newly opened Thomas & Mack Center. The year ended with a wild show by the Dead Kennedys at a warehouse near the railroad tracks.

So it wasn’t too surprising when the Ramones announced their first-ever Vegas gig, at the Moyer Student Union Building at UNLV. Phoenix had become a regular tour stop, and the band had played Reno and Salt Lake City a few years before. My wife and I had been fans for years, having seen Joey and the boys in the Bay Area a number of times, so hearing about the show on KUNV’s Rock Avenue program, we pogoed at the chance to get tickets.

The Ramones did not disappoint. In a trademark performance, they blasted through more than 30 songs in about an hour, hits—“Sheena Is a Punk Rocker,” “Teenage Lobotomy,” “Blitzkrieg Bop”—and several songs from their new album, Too Tough to Die. Imagine our joy, seeing what we had become accustomed to in San Francisco, taking place in our own hometown.

After swarming over a stage diver and hustling him off the dancefloor, the renowned security force for the event (believed to be UNLV football players past and present) approached me about three-quarters through the set, having noticed that I was holding a microphone. Another advantage of the early-’80s Las Vegas concert market, you see, was that venue security rarely checked vigorously for recording equipment snuck in by those of us wanting to enjoy the show again at a later date. I had gone so far as to wrap the very long mic cord around my waist a few times, all very 007 until there’s a flashlight in your eyes and you’re coughing up a treasured cassette. I was escorted out with 10 minutes to go in the set (though spared a trip to the security office), and to this day, even in the most hardcore trading circles, you won’t find a recording of that show. I’d like to think it’s still languishing in an ex-college football player’s attic somewhere, but I kind of doubt it.

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