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Review faceoff: Las Vegas Philharmonic vs. Steel Panther

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David Itkin, shown conducting the Las Vegas Philharmonic.
Photo: Leila Navidi

Valentine’s weekend in Las Vegas is much like Valentine’s weekend in any city, if that city offers heavy metal mayhem on one night and Tchaikovsky on the next. Friday night in VegasVille, it was the hormonally powered heavy metal cover band Steel Panther at Ovation showroom at Green Valley Ranch Station Casino. Saturday night it was the Las Vegas Philharmonic at Artemus Ham Hall at the UNLV Performing Arts Center.

I know, yawn.

Certainly, because of the years-long crossover appeal of these music institutions, hundreds of fans took in both performances. Or maybe it was only two fans who took in both performances. I spotted KNPR’s Dave Berns at the LV Phil show, and I’m confident he was rockin’ Ovation the night before with Steel Panther. We’ll find out for sure on the next edition of … KNPR’s State of Nevada.

Until then, here’s my dueling review of both performances:

Staging: Steel Panther is all strobes and smoke, with big screens at either side of the stage and the back of the club glowing with video clips and the live feed from the performance. The 75 members of the Philharmonic sit in padded black chairs facing toward conductor David Itkin. Advantage: Steel Panther.

Costuming: Steel Panther favors black Spandex, sequins (particularly in the midrange region), bandanas and bedazzled boots. The men in the LV Phil are decked out in tuxedos and the women in simple black dresses. I always say, you can’t screw up a tux or black formal attire. But you can really screw up Spandex. Advantage: Las Vegas Philharmonic.

Front men: Steel Panther vocalist Michael Starr wields a sweat-splattered mic stand and frequently thrusts his instrument (and his microphone) toward the audience while tirelessly gyrating, preening and chatting with the crowd. Itkin sweeps the baton with theatrical grandiosity, stabbing his wand at the musicians and springing at every shift in tempo. It seems choreographed, almost. Advantage: Las Vegas Philharmonic.

Soloist/special guest: During his hotly anticipated solos, performed on what seems to be a B.C. Rich electric, Steel Panther guitarist Satchel inventively rips through samples of “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and “Smoke on the Water.” During these whirling artistic forays, Satchel stands behind the drum kit while concurrently hammering the bass pedal with his right foot. Concerto soloist Zuill Bailey performs on his 1693 Matteo Gofriller cello (which is not equipped with a wah-wah bar), an instrument once owned by Mischa Schneider of the Budapest String Quartet. With passion and precision, Bailey mesmerized the audience during Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations, Op. 33 and Nocturne for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 19, #4. The ladies (and some of the guys, and you know who you are) were spirited away by the long-maned musician. Advantage: Las Vegas Philharmonic.

Set list/music selection: Steel Panther borrowed from such metal institutions as Van Halen (but really, guys, “Jump”?), Metallica, Guns 'N' Roses and the Scorpions. The LV Phil lacked similar programming dexterity, relying solely on Tchaikovsky pieces throughout the 2½-hour program: Advantage: Steel Panther.

Stage banter: The Steel Panther boys pride themselves on witty repartee, much of it centering on having sex (traditional or otherwise) with female members of the audience, or even their mothers. I’d quote directly, but why bother? I’m still recovering from the AVN convention. Conversely, Itkin was given the difficult charge of addressing the audience to announce that the Phil’s recent administrative “disarray” that led to the tense ouster of board president Barbara Lee Woolen has finally passed. He also delicately asked for money ($100,000 to match the $100,000 promised by private donor) to keep the Phil operating. Itkin handled that task with characteristic aplomb, and even remembered to tell the audience to shut off their cell phones. Advantage: Las Vegas Philharmonic.

Leach Blog Photo

The motley crew that is Steel Panther.

Venue: Ovation was almost all standing and jousting, but you’re close enough to feel the heat from the stage. Which might not be the most comfortable sensation, now that I think of it. … Ham Hall has new seats and is a serviceable concert hall, but the parking and access for a sold-out show is not good. Not good at all. Advantage: Ovation.

Audience participation: Steel Panther hosted a pirate costume contest midshow (and just wondering, is fishnet ever used for actually catching fish anymore?) The prize to the winner was $1,000. The LV Phil offered a 20-minute intermission, which was an ideal time to purchase a $10 LV Phil golf cap, and also held an auction with one prize a dinner with Itkin. (A side note: Audience participation at a Steel Panther show could mean a radically misbehaving audience member is thrown to the floor and sprayed with mace, a scene atypical of an LV Phil performance.) Advantage: Steel Panther ($1,000 to dress as a pirate? Sign me up!)

Overall: During an LV Phil performance, you get lost in the music. At a Steel Panther show, you get lost trying to find the crew you walked in with. Advantage: Las Vegas Philharmonic.

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