Las Vegas has earned its reputation as a place where the unlikely happens. Sometimes that’s bad, like the time Bay Area pop-punk band SVT melted down and broke up during a 1982 show at UNLV. Or when the first-ever Junefest concert got rained out on the coldest June 5 in Las Vegas history. But sometimes it’s amazingly good, like when some of rock’s coolest artists come here for a one-off show at the height of their success. Such was the case when Beck announced plans to play the Tiffany Theatre, the venerable showroom at the Tropicana Hotel, in January 1999.
I’d been a fan of Mr. Hansen from the start, always finding it easy to relate to his sly take on some really serious matters. It was great fortune that he came along when he did, bursting with creative intelligence with the numbed-up ’80s still a fresh memory. And then there was his knockout appearance on MTV’s Video Music Awards a couple years before this. Having performed on the façade at Radio City Music Hall, the main showroom at the Trop almost seemed a natural progression.
The concert was originally set for January 14, and I had my tickets in hand long in advance. Since we had survived a few crushing cancellations in the past (Talking Heads at the Aladdin, Pink Floyd at the Silver Bowl), we got off easy when this show only got postponed when a band member got sick. The concert was rescheduled for May 6, immediately becoming the most anticipated rock music event of the year.
The wait was more than worth it. In that most unlikely setting, with rows of long, rectangular tables down front and big, fat booths with little cocktail tables just beyond them, Beck and his razor-sharp band arrived in high gear and stayed there, delivering a fast and fun set that started with “Novacane” and had everyone yelling by “Loser.” At one point he stopped and lamented that the old-school setup didn’t leave much room for dancing. We were planted deep in one of those cushy booths and were left to boogie the best we could without standing up.
The Odelay-heavy set included several delightful surprises, including ’80s throwbacks “Pass the Dutchie” and “Electric Avenue,” the latter featuring Beck wearing a rainbow wig. A blistering “Devil’s Haircut” closed the show. It was the most dancing I’ve ever done without actually dancing.
In what turned out to be a huge bonus, the opening act was power-folk-metal duo Tenacious D, making its Las Vegas debut. We were only marginally aware of Jack and Kyle at the time, having heard of their TV show, which didn’t prepare us for the spectacle. By the time they got to “Flash” with “pyrotechnics” that were actually foot pump-propelled Nerf rockets aimed at the audience, we were in hysterics and fans for life.