Sonic Flashback: iBash at MGM Grand (October 29, 1999)

The Vegas job: The Who essentially headlined iBash at MGM Grand in 1999.
Pat Vasquez-Cunningham/AP
Dennis Mitchell

When we look at all we take for granted from the Internet today, it’s easy to forget that in 1999 the ability to smoothly stream an entire live concert or sporting event was something most of us were still hoping for. Windows 98 was the dominant computer operating system, and you had to pay extra for “high-speed Internet.”

So it came as welcome news that the ability to easily use our computers just like TV had arrived, and that it would be rolled out in the promotional capital of the world. The company was called Pixelon, and its $10 million launch dubbed the “iBash” was set for Halloween weekend. The plan: to take over the MGM Grand, stage top-name concerts at different spots across the property and stream the shows via Pixelon’s new software.

A good chunk of the money went to Tony Bennett, The Who, Natalie Cole, Brian Setzer, Kiss and other A-list acts. The Who were scheduled for Friday night at midnight in the Grand Garden Arena, effectively making them the headliners of the impressive lineup, and it happened to be the first show of their ’99 reunion tour. That event within the party was accessible by both ticket buyers and invited VIPs.

Even for Vegas at the peak of the roaring ’90s, the evening felt a bit surreal. The town was already packed with October visitors, and now the world’s largest hotel had been rented out for a party by a Bay Area startup. We walked by as Natalie Cole performed at what looked like a casual get-together around the pool. On our way to the Who concert, Kiss came strolling through the ground level of the arena and rode up the escalators behind us, quietly chatting among themselves. They had just finished their 20-minute set at the theme park that once filled the property’s northeast quadrant.

As we settled in, I recalled that I had seen The Jam at a midnight concert in Oakland 20 years before, an interesting coincidence given the parallels long drawn between that band and The Who. Only about a third of the arena’s lower level was occupied, and though we got a short show by Who standards, it didn’t disappoint. We got all the big hits and an encore that included “My Generation,” plus Roger caught the microphone most of the time. The performance was eventually released on DVD as The Vegas Job.

The iBash is remembered mainly for two things: The obvious excess of the party, and what was actually going on behind the scenes. The CEO turned out to be a convicted swindler operating under an alias, who had used almost half the investors’ money to stage the iBash. The software we were all celebrating didn’t work as billed, and only bits of the performances ever showed up online, several days after the event was over. The company folded about a year later.

But man, what a party.

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