Sonic Flashback: Aerosmith at the Hard Rock Cafe (September 8, 1990)

Aerosmith battled past technical difficulties for a high-energy, if abbreviated set, at the Hard Rock Cafe grand opening 25 years ago.
Photo: Susan Walsh
Dennis Mitchell

It’s been a given for ages that everyone in Las Vegas seems to be from somewhere else. And since many of their hometowns had a Hard Rock Cafe of their own, the grand opening of the location at Harmon and Paradise 25 years ago wasn’t your typical Vegas restaurant debut. Aside from a 24-hour record store and a few fun bars with stages, the Entertainment Capital lacked that big-city, all-inclusive music hangout, and it felt obvious the Hard Rock would change that.

Even by Las Vegas grand-opening standards it was one for the ages, rivaling the big hotel-casinos in terms of advance buzz and ticket demand. The $250 VIP package included an Aerosmith concert and a buffet, both staged behind the actual café with the concert inside a convention tent. The size and layout of the restaurant precluded holding such a large-scale event there, though it was used as a live-music venue for smaller shows once it opened.

Aerosmith had worked its way out of dark times during the ’80s with hit albums Permanent Vacation and Pump, and the September 8, 1990, Vegas stop came near the end of a yearlong tour supporting the latter. Crowds started building early.

Just after dark the band turned up in front of the new building, climbing aboard a cherry picker and rising to be photographed next to the huge, neon-lined guitar. We were then treated to a fine, patio-style buffet featuring many of the chain’s specialties, and then off we trundled, into the big white tent.

The show started late, the result of technical issues known only to those at the front of the packed venue. They would become obvious to the rest of us soon enough. After a dramatic entrance to the theme from Psycho, high anticipation gave way to high anxiety when the power went out about 30 seconds into the first song. The tent sat in darkness for a few moments, and then the lights and sound returned, with frontman Steven Tyler asking us to keep our fingers crossed. We tried, to no avail. It happened again and again, the sound dropping out after a minute or so each time. The stage crew then stepped in, taking up the band’s instruments and jamming to the theme from Peter Gunn long enough to ensure the gremlins were finally gone.

Aerosmith then launched into “Young Lust” and kept the energy high for an abbreviated set, which began with the bulk of Pump and finished with hits. Having seen the group a few times in basketball arenas in earlier years, I took note of how tight and sharp it still sounded. It was almost midnight when Aerosmith wrapped up with “Walk This Way,” and by then the technical problems were a distant memory.

Upon leaving, we noticed a few people sitting on the curb along the south side of Harmon Avenue in handcuffs. We hadn’t realized, but there had been a melee outside involving folks without tickets. There was trash everywhere and several Metro police cruisers were still on hand. A world-class chain arrived in town, Aerosmith slew electronic demons and somebody called in the paddy wagons. Just another Saturday night in Vegas.

From there, the restaurant thrived. Music groups from multiple genres began holding events there, and local music fans took to it. And it turned out, the cool stuff on display inside was just a starting point. Four and a half years later the Hard Rock Hotel opened right behind it, bigger and with even more memorabilia. It sure is nice to see the original’s still standing—and going strong—a quarter-century later.

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