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Monster Circus, Gilby Clarke and Vegas as hair-metal mecca

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Dee Snider and his Goldilocks ‘do are the obvious highlights of the Monster Circus show.
Photo: Leila Navidi

Gilby Clarke played tonight to a sparse but robust crowd at Sunset Station's Club Madrid, delivering a 90-minute set that mixed his own compositions with a number of classic-rock covers. The guy who's best known for a three-year stint in Guns N' Roses in the early '90s, and whose most high-profile recent project is the reality series Rock Star: Supernova, held the attention of the eclectic crowd, and managed to get it on its feet by the cover-filled encore. Clarke is a talented songwriter and a solid musician, and he knows how to put on a show. But there's more to his Vegas appeal than just decent music and a semi-familiar name.

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Monster Circus combined aging rockers with mediocre circus acts at the Las Vegas Hilton on March 26, 2009.

The night before going to the Gilby Clarke show, I was at the media opening for Monster Circus at the Hilton, a sort of amped-up version of your basic hard-rock cover band, with mostly C- and D-list figures from '80s glam-metal acts churning out competent but not particularly thrilling versions of past hits. It's enhanced with some vaguely circus-like elements, including a couple of mediocre acrobats, a terrible "ringmaster" and a crazy clown who only appears via video. There are also scantily clad female dancers; basically, it's a Whitesnake video come to life. I wouldn't recommend paying the $40 and up it costs to see Monster Circus, especially since the one worthwhile presence, maniac Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider, shows up for just four songs and will only be in the show during its March dates.

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Monster Circus takes its bow in the Barry Manilow showroom on March 26, 2009.

But seeing both of these shows back-to-back did highlight for me the convergence of elements that seems to be turning Vegas into the hair-metal capital of America. The night before his Sunset Station show, Clarke sat in with the Sin City Sinners, another mashed-up collection of '80s hard-rock survivors, who play various local lounges and bars on a regular basis (unlike Monster Circus, their shows are generally free). Hair metal tribute/parody group Steel Panther regularly packs in audiences at Green Valley Ranch and Aliante Station. Bookings in the next few months at various Station casinos include Britny Fox, Faster Pussycat, Stephen Pearcy of Ratt, Pretty Boy Floyd, Bang Tango and Vegas' own Slaughter. Motley Crue's Vince Neil has lived here for years, and his band seems like a leading contender for the upcoming resident-performer slot at the new Joint at the Hard Rock.

This bounty of hair-metal goodness is the very reason that the $40 Monster Circus show is such a poor deal compared to, say, a $15 Gilby Clarke show. For that amount of money, you get a more intimate experience, a band playing songs they actually have a personal connection to, a level of artistic integrity - plus plenty of familiar tunes (Clarke broke out songs by The Rolling Stones, Humble Pie, The Beatles, Cheap Trick and, of course, Guns N' Roses) to feed your nostalgia cravings. All you're really missing is some half-hearted pyro and second-rate circus performers, and you could get most of that by hanging out at the Circus-Circus midway for a little while.

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