Friday, October 9, 2009

The Podcasts Are LIVE 4-6 pm PT Saturday

We're starting our new recording schedule at LVRocks.Com on Saturday afternoon, doing an hour of The Petcast and then an hour of The Strip, the latter with the much-awaited return of Miles to the co-host chair for the first time since the middle of the summer.

Join us at LVRocks.Com from 4-6 pm PT to listen live, chat with fellow listeners and see us via the live studio cam. Or wait for the podcast versions. Either way's cool.

For The Petcast, we'll be recording two shows, the first with an expert from Florida who is administering an amnesty program for people needing to abandon exotic pets like snakes that otherwise create eco-system problems in the Everglades and elsewhere. The second show's guest is Cat Opson, the $2,000 winner of the SuperZoo creative grooming contest that I covered in this PawNation.Com piece. Check out the fiery comments Cat left battling back against folks who called her grooming effort a form of animal abuse.

For The Strip, it's looking like we'll be using my conversations with Anthony Zuiker and Marg Helgenberger from CSI: Crime Scene Investigation at the opening of the CSI attraction at MGM Grand a few weeks back. And there'll be LOTS of banter to catch up on.

Thursday, October 8, 2009


It's nice when your friends land on their feet!

Turns out, losing that "Jersey Boys" gig has worked to my pal Erich Bergen's favor. The former Bob Gaudio and co-producer of "Las Vegas Celebrates The Music of Michael Jackson" begins filming the first of three episodes of the CW hit "Gossip Girl" tomorrow in New York City. Erich's not allowed to say much more about his role other than he appears in scenes with Lady Gaga and Hilary Duff. And that's just the first episode.

You might recall that Erich was fired for undisclosed reasons from "Jersey Boys" last month after three years in the role both on tour and in Vegas. Had that not happened, though, he wouldn't have been marooned in New York City during his vacation and wouldn't have had the chance to audition for the "Gossip Girl" role. In fact, he had that audition on Sept. 24, the same day that he and I dined at Aureole in New York and went to see "In The Heights," as my Twitter followers know. (I was coincidentally in New York for my sister's surprise 40th birthday that weekend).

That Monday, having not heard anything about the "Gossip Girl" role, he flew back to Las Vegas. When he landed at McCarran, he had a message telling him he needed to come in for a callback the next morning. So he flew back to New York that night and made his callback audition by about 11 a.m. ... and got the part!

All of this, understandably, has delayed our ability to get with school district officials and decide how the $100,000+ we raised will be spent or to edit the video of the MJ concert. We'll get to all of that soon, we promise, and Erich will be back in Vegas pretty soon. There's been some behind-the-scenes planning for a concert to at least provide some closure for Erich's Vegas chapter that he didn't get by his sudden dismissal.

Congrats to Erich. Now, can anyone lend me some "Gossip Girl" DVDs? All I know about the show is what I read in US Weekly.

This Week's LVW Col: Frittering Top Chef

Frittering Top Chef?
Why the Vegas hype machine must turn up the head now on its biggest culinary moment

Hubert Keller was on the line, enthusiastically dishing about the wonderfulness for him that has been his ride this year with the Bravo reality hit Top Chef. Keller, proprietor of Fleur de Lys and Burger Bar at Mandalay Bay, was a finalist on Top Chef Masters and then appeared again a few weeks ago to help assess the output of the contestants battling it out in the regular season, which is, of course, set here in Vegas.

The results of this exposure have been dramatic for Keller, whose Fleur de Lys opened in 2002 and has generally underperformed compared with both in-house competition from Aureole, Mix and StripSteak and versus the top tier of Guy Savoy, Alex, Picasso and Robuchon.

Keller’s TV exposure, however, has prompted a fairly radical turnaround. The pudding’s proof: Fleur had greater revenues in August 2009, while open five days a week, than it did in August 2008 open seven days a week. The place was packed on my recent visit, and it was library-dead during my two prior meals there.

But something was also missing, so I asked Keller the question I’ve wanted to ask many people as Vegas’ Top Chef moment hits its halfway point: “If so many of your guests are mentioning Top Chef when they come in, how come you don’t have a Top Chef menu?”

The generally exuberant Keller fell silent.

“Uhhh,” long pause, “good question, I guess,” he said sheepishly. “We did a Top Chef night in St. Louis, and it was an enormous success, but I guess, yeah, we still have to fix it up and use it as a tool and do some of the signature dishes that I did on the show, I guess. I guess I don’t want to bore people too much. But yeah, I guess that’s another thing that I could do.”

To which, in my mind, all I could think was: WTF?

Read the rest at

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Wednesday Musings: Tech + Journalism

Continuing to trickle out some of the nuggets I've been storing up for a while on different topics, today's grouping is tech and journalism...

Premature Chazz Palminteri Love. I've deferred interviewing Chazz Palminteri, the Oscar nominee whose one-man show "A Bronx Tale" opens tonight for a limited run at the Venetian, until after I've actually sat through the show. I mean, I was the one who broke the news that it was en route back in March, but I like to see the work before I interview the star so I can develop intelligent questions and not simply stenograph his spiel. Strangely, though, the entire Las Vegas press corps are providing glowing preview coverage of the production without ever having seen it. The R-J's John L. Smith, for instance, wrote under the headline: "The Strip's long overdue for street-savvy, soulful show like 'A Bronx Tale.'" I wonder how John could know this is one.

2. AOL's Political Profile:
I've long noticed that the online poll results on AOL.Com skew right politically. It makes sense, too, seeing how AOL's remaining subscriber base demographic are probably white, older and more generally set in their ways since they're still using AOL. (I would be the exception to that, albeit I'm white.) But I never quite had a clear smoking gun until today when AOL led with a news story showing that 56 percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of President Obama's job performance in the latest national polls.

How did AOL users respond to the same question? Take a look and click to enlarge if you must:

Yep, 69 percent disapprove of Obama's job performance and it only gets worse for The One when they ask about health care (74 percent), the economy (72 percent) and Afghanistan (74 percent). No, it's not a scientific poll. But 211,000+ and counting is a large sample of something.

And yes, I cropped that screenshot that way on purpose because I found it funny that the first line of text from the AP story that appears below those atrocious poll results reads: "People also feel better about his handling of the economy and his proposed health care overhaul." Not these people!

3. And speaking of AOL.Com:

When I saw this, I thought, "Whoa! Now the Wayner's a goner, too?" But, no. They just dug back to a really obscure reference to Bob Stupak as referenced by Jan Jones a decade or so ago. Odd, no?

4. Still Not Funny. It's been a while since John Przybys of the Review-Journal began a knockoff of Entertainment Weekly's usually clever feature of sarcastic zingers based on pop culture news. It's hard to imagine who over there thinks his Sunday "Water Cooler" bits are original or amusing -- except him, I suspect -- but this week it merits mention because it wasn't just unfunny but inaccurate. He wrote:

• "Saturday Night Live" newcomer Jenny Slate accidentally utters a very bad word during a sketch. On the upside, when was the last time anybody talked this much about an SNL season opener?

Hey! I know! How about last year when...

...when everyone was dying to see what Tina Fey would do with her Sarah Palin looks! D'oh!

5. Southwest's Wi-Fi Weirdness. On my way to New York from Vegas last month, I had a short hop from BWI to LGA. That plane had wireless Internet. When we were at an altitude to use it, I tried to log on on my iPhone. It said it cost $2. So I opened my laptop and I found this:

They wanted $5 on the laptop. Uh, why the difference? Anyone?

Manilow To Open At Paris On V-Day Weekend?

The official announcement just came that Barry Manilow's tenure at the Hilton ends Dec. 30. KVBC's Alicia Jacobs had reported as much last month and I had already Tweeted on Oct. 1 that I had confirmed that Manilow was in talks with Paris LV to move over there.

While the Paris folks have been coy because negotiations are ongoing, I now can report that Manilow has hired a new show director and is gunning for a Valentine's Day weekend 2010. Nothing's set in stone and no contracts have been signed, but the pieces are clearly falling into place.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Vegas Drama Club Drama!

Ut-oh. Them Bible thumpers are at it again. Then again, they wuz kinda provoked.

Y'see, Green Valley High School, one of the top public high schools in the region, decided to do some real cutting edge theater this year. This Monday, timed to the anniversary of the brutal 1998 attack on and death of Matthew Shepard, their theater group is doing "The Laramie Project." It's a brilliant spoken-word performance that tells the story of how a gay teenager's crucifixion rocked a Wyoming community and then the world. Then they do the same show again Nov. 12-14.

They're also scheduled for six performances of the Bohemian musical "Rent" in January and February.

Of course, both shows have lots of content that -- gasp! -- deals frankly and honestly with sexual orientation. To some, that's an evil that ought never utter its name in school. According to Ryan Maseo Smith, a friend and local gay club promoter, "Some community members feel that the subject matter is inappropriate for high school students to be performing and intend to have it removed."

It can't be a surprise that there's some pushback when you title your theater season "A Season of Controversy, Compassion and Courage." But "The Laramie Project" came off quite successfully in 2004 at the Las Vegas Academy, a magnet performing arts school here. In fact, Fred Phelps, the loony Kansas pastor who pickets funerals with signs that say "God Hates Fags," paid a visit, no doubt helping to sell it out.

Indeed, I confirmed what Ryan wrote via email with Geoff Neuman, the band director whose string quartet did "Smooth Criminal" in the Michael Jackson benefit we put on in August. Neuman wrote me back:

There has been pressure but we are NOT canceling anything. Our principal is on board. I will be conducting the put for Rent and The Laramie Project will go on, too.

That's good to hear. But just in case, I like the idea that Ryan provided in his urgent email plea today:

One of the students contacted me and asked that I write a letter of support to the principal. I felt the stronger response would be to help sell out the shows. What better response can a principal have to protesting conservative voices than, "We can't cancel the shows - We're SOLD OUT!" It would send a horrible message to the students if in a season of compassion, controversy and courage - conservative voices were able to strip away these two incredible and inspirational pieces of art. Without drawing more radical attention to the theatre program, you can make a huge show of support by purchasing a ticket and encouraging your friends to do the same (seats are only $10.00 - $15.00).

Of course, when you send out an email like this and encourage people to pass it along as Ryan did -- I got three copies myself today -- it's probably not likely you'll avoid drawing more attention to the situation.

But actually, attention in such a situation can be a good thing. Let the right-wingers, most of whom would protest these shows even though they've never seen or read them, make their case. The kids will see the bigotry of it all and, thus, a new group of hardened liberals will be minted.

In the meantime, if you want to check out the shows, visit here and get some tickets. They're also doing Shakespeare and "Little Women," too. Not sure where those fit into the year's promise of "controversy," but I've always found it sure does take some (liquid?) courage to sit through Shakespeare.

The Podcasts Re-Emerge Saturday!

It's official! We're moving the live recording for "The Strip" to Saturday evening starting this weekend. Also, Emily and I will be recording "The Petcast" for one hour before that. We're hoping to move to Sunday evenings whenever LVRocks.Com gets a Sunday engineer, but for now we'll have a 4 p.m.-6p.m. PT block for two Petcasts and a Strip.

It'll be interesting to see if this shrinks our chat room attendance or maybe there were people, especially in other time zones, for whom mid-week evenings were unappealing. We shall see!

See you there? Reminder and more info on the upcoming shows will be posted on Fridays. The live shows are streamed at LVRocks.Com, where there's also a chat room and a live studio cam.

Tuesday Musings: Food Edition

Been hanging on to a lot of little tidbits for a while, so I'll be grouping them this week and posting them as we go along. First up are topics that are loosely related by their relevance to food.

1. Inappropriate, Party of One. Did John Curtas, the brilliant KNPR food critic whom I very much admire and whose recommendations I flawlessly follow, really Tweet this below about Namaste Indian Cuisine?

And, as a side note, are there really (m)any Native American ("feathers") restaurants anywhere? I've never actually heard of a Cherokee eatery, have you? Would people have actually been confused as to which sort of Indians he meant?

2. Photo of Last Week: I just love this image of the birds perched on almost every letter of the Bagelmania sign:

I wanted to tell the two birds not perched that there are spaces reserved for them on the L, M or I.

3. Snakes At the Cafe: If you didn't catch this on my Twitter feed on Saturday, take a look at the accessory around this fellow's neck at the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf I write at near UNLV.


Another view of creepy snake guy at the cafe: on Twitpic


4. Blogger's Rorschach Test:

What is that little graphic thing? It's been there on my Blogger dashboard for weeks. Is it a boat? A piece of cake? What? And, more importantly, why?

5. My Kitchen Misadventure: Last week, Miles had to work really late on the fifth anniversary of our first date -- see, it's not just the podcast that's suffering! -- so I decided to salvage the occasion by making a special dessert from this recipe I got from Gourmet. Actually, it wasn't from the magazine itself but from an ad for Spice Island cinnamon (which I did not use) in soon-to-disappear Gourmet. Here's the recipe and this was what it was supposed to look like:

Yet when I tried to make those almond crisps, the first time this is how it looked:

Oops. I didn't get how little of the batter would spread out. I also didn't know the difference between wax and parchment paper. (That's wax. It sticks. Now we know.) Still, I kept trying and managed to pull off three of them the right way after a lot of trial-and-error. Here's what I served Miles:

I made this for a special dessert for our anniversary last ni... on Twitpic

Mine is not photographed as it went hatless owing to the fact that only three crisps actually turned out right. KLAS-TV's Edward Lawrence, reacting on his Twitter feed to my posting of that image, wrote:

Eddie was, in a rare shock, wrong. It was yummy. And I got the filling spot-on.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Postscript on the Gay Sex Museum Drama

Remember how I got all concerned last week that the first images the media would have of gays tying the knot under the domestic partnership law that went into effect on Oct. 1 would look like this...

...instead of like this?

Well, thanks to this blog and a whole lotta other folks who saw the common sense in what I was saying, this is what ended up on the front page of the R-J was this Craig L. Moran shot:

Isn't that sweet? Mainstream? Inoffensive?

And the folks at the Erotic Heritage Museum had a small gathering with no media coverage and no gay couples celebrating their domestic partners. From what I hear, it ended up being more a roast in my dishonor.

Now, I know some folks are really, really mad at me. This angry screed from the Sin City Sex Blog gave me an enormous amount of credit/blame as if I alone can get, as she wrote, Nevada legislators and politicians to make calls at 2 a.m. to put the kibosh on the plan for a public celebration at the sex museum involving drag-queen nuns and other outlandishness. (It's a very colorful post that I encourage you to check out. Sample: "I was sickened by their willingness to accept what he had done – sickened by the diarrhea that spewed from his fingertips onto the Internet for the whole world to read.")

What's fun about that blog post is that it essentially states that I was right -- "Steve Friess might have been right, in fact, he probably was" -- but that I should have handled it quietly even though a press release had already been issued all over the place and had as its contact someone who should have had a better grip on the PR issue here, the associate publisher of the local gay paper. (He turned out to be the would-be star of the debacle, too.)

So, once again for the record:

* I am not against the Erotic Heritage Museum and I do look forward to checking it out soon.
* I don't mean to take anything away from the fine fundraising and HIV/AIDS awareness work of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.
* I still think Elvis impersonator weddings are silly and cliche.

As for why I didn't make quiet phone calls, maybe that's because I have no desire to be a part of power structures. I work alone. I do not conspire with gay leaders or politicians or business leaders to make certain things happen. I am a member of the media. I point out things I see on this blog and elsewhere and let others decide for themselves whether my view is sensible or stupid, ingenious or ignorable.

But it is interesting that the same folks who think it's unseemly, embarrassing and counterproductive for gays to debate legitimate issues publicly were not concerned at all about the PR mess that this event would have created.

Is This Cruelty or Good Fun?

I thought it was good fun, but evidently many who have visited PawNation.Com, one of my new clients and the site for whom I covered last month's SuperZoo pet-goods show at Mandalay Bay, seem to think it's animal cruelty to do this...

...or this...

...or this... an animal. Check out the whole gallery and vote on which one should've won and then find out who did. I suppose we should have included a "None, these people are Michael Vicks" to the list?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Your Sunday Reading Assignments

I've finally caught up on weeks of reading and found some stuff of Vegas relevance to recommend. Most is from today's paper, actually, but some is kind of old, but if you haven't seen it, it's new to you:

* Margo Bartlett Pesek's Trip of the Week column. In an otherwise worthless R-J travel section, Margo does a really nice job of offering some intriguing day-trip suggestions. This week's piece on wineries -- yes, wineries -- near Vegas was clip-and-save caliber.

* Henry Brean's really well-written piece today on the new critters they're finding in Snake Valley and how it intersects with Las Vegas' plan to suck water from northeastern Nevada via a really, really long pipe. Really cool, beautiful video, too, by John Locher.

Too bad the R-J's crack Web staff still hasn't figured out how to let people embed it.

* This piece by Adrienne Packer of the R-J about Clark County goons who busted and left carless a desolate 51-year-old woman for trying to make ends by picking people up at the airport. She had an ad on Craigslist offering to do all manner of chores and errands, including providing rides, and the Transportation Authority actually executed a sting. It's understandable that they need to make sure drivers picking up people at McCarran are licensed and not evil-doers, but when they realized this wasn't some big fake-cabbie ring but a nice, desperate lady, maybe they could've applied some common sense?

* Brendan Buhler, whose work I always have enjoyed but who handled the desperate publicity circus surrounding the Pink's Hot Dogs hilariously and then turned around and wrote sensitively and tastefully about how the new domestic partnership law would benefit a lesbian couple and their family.

* My Las Vegas Weekly colleague Rick Lax's really funny cover piece recently about trying to "live" at Town Center. Also, Dave McKee's profile of the classic French restaurant Le Pamplemousse for CityLife. Rick's was an idea I wish I'd thought of, McKee's was one I'd considered many times and never gotten around to doing.

* LVW food critic Max Jacobson has a piece in Gourmet this month listing seven places in Vegas worth their prices. I agree with many of his choices -- Raku, Simon and Lotus -- but am baffled by his praise of Beijing Noodle No. 9 at Caesars Palace. Having lived in China for two years, I'm here to tell you that food was bland. Also, the dining room is a little too kaladascopic for me.

Makes ya dizzy, no? Food's not that great, either.

The New Dino Chronicles of Vegas

Sold for $3.6m. Seems lower than expected. Not sure who bough... on Twitpic

I'm not a big dinosaur guy, but yesterday's assignment for the Agence France-Presse to cover the attempted sale of the third-most-intact Tyrannosaurus Rex at a big natural artifacts auction put on by Bonhams & Butterfields at the Venetian was a surprisingly great deal of fun. The T. Rex, a female awkwardly named Samson, garnered a top bid of $3.6 million, but that wasn't enough so they didn't sell it.

Maybe it was the fact that it was my first assignment outing with my new iPhone since I've figured out the whole Twitter-Picture thing and so it was fun to show folks in real time via my Twitter feed images like this one of the cute kid vamping in front of the largest shark jaw ever found:

Here's some cute kid vamping in front of the worlds largest k... on Twitpic

That didn't sell, by the way. The highest bid came in at around $550,000, but auctioneers decided that didn't hit the reserve price. There was a lot of that yesterday, reflecting that even millions-of-years-old fossils aren't immune to 2009's economic doldrums.

I met some colorful people. You think of expensive auction bidders as stuffy folks in suits or pantsuits probably representing some mysterious billionaire, but this guy...

A rock musician from chicago here to bid on something from $1... on Twitpic

...was just a rock musician named Damon Ranger of the Chicago-based band Blackbox who was considering buying something (but didn't) for the house in the $10k-$15k range.

This shlubby-looking fellow, however...

Oops. Here's the doc from ak: on Twitpic on the hook for about $1 million in total winning bids on a variety of items including the pair of tricertop-related dinosaurs behind him. He's Dr. Larry Lawson, 44, an oncologist from Big Lake, Alaska, quite near now-famous Wasilla. He claimed he's got a 501(c)3 non-profit called From The Vault that covers his collection of all sorts of dino-stuff because he opens it up to school groups, but he's got no website for it and I wasn't able to locate any such organization anywhere in the U.S., let alone Alaska, in the IRS's online database. Odd, that. At least this seems to confirm he's an oncologist.

Oh, and there was at least one mysterious billionaire, but he showed up in person with his wife:

Adelsons in front row at Dino auction. on Twitpic

That is, of course, Sheldon Adelson and wife Miriam in the front row with the appropriately numbered paddle No. 770 went on to buy about $142,000 worth of stuff, including blowing $67,000 on this:

It's a large opalescent ammonite from the late cretaceous period found in southern Alberta, Canada. They lived 71 million years ago and that color is natural. (Photo credit: Dolce Dreams blog).

Adelson was quite friendly. In fact, his wife initially gave me a no-comment, but as we chatted some more Sheldon actually said, "It's OK, he's been good to us." Which is funny because some on his PR team don't feel so warm about me. The couple explained they would put some of the items in their home -- "we bought some tchotchkes for the house" -- and for the Adelson high school they fund.

He seemed to be in terrific spirits, actually, and walking a lot better than the last time I saw him in person in January 2008. I noted to him that his stock is back up a bit -- it was below $2 in March but closed Friday at $16.13 -- to which he replied, "It's only beginning to rise again." He expressed pleasure in the upswing they're seeing in Macau and referenced his coming Hong Kong IPO.

With the T. Rex unsold and available for about $5 million, I wondered why Adelson didn't buy it. He had seen first-hand how popular an exhibit it was when it drew 15,000 to view the free auction preview in the Guggenheim space. My Las Vegas Weekly editor, Ken Miller, had fantasized about Samson staying in Vegas in this week's issue, in fact, and while I don't think Ken's idea of standing it next to the Welcome sign is feasible, I sure do think that someone should take note of the immense popularity not just of the preview but also of Sue, the most intact T. Rex ever found, which has drawn mobs for going on 10 years at Chicago's Field Museum.

I quizzed Adelson on why he didn't buy it and he said, bafflingly, "It's huge, where would I put something that big?" Seeing how we were just a doorway from the immense Venetian's Grand Hall, I thought of a few places. Seemed to me that he could easily draw a million people to pay $5 each to see the thing somewhere at the Venetian or Palazzo to cover the cost of buying it. He's a billionaire, though, and I'm not, so I stifled myself.

I do find it strange that I was the only reporter to cover the Adelson angle here. The Las Vegas Sun didn't, the L.A. Times didn't and the Associated Press didn't mainly because they oddly covered the auction fron Reno owing to the fact that the Vegas bureau no longer has staff on the weekends. (The R-J ran the AP story which means the largest local paper ceded a significant scientific and economic event to the wires only to end up with something written from 450 miles away.)

It's not as though Adelson was difficult to spot...

Adelson: "we bought some tchotchkes for the house." Also for ... on Twitpic

...or that he's that obscure a personality or business figure. He may have fallen from the lofty heights of 3rd richest American, but he's still the 26th wealthiest American and first richest Las Vegan, according to the latest Forbes list.

Yet my favorite was the Huffington Post, which long has boasted the most consistently banal, obvious, cliched coverage of Vegas of any major site on the Web. Here's a screenshot of their little preview of the auction:

The text there reads: "Only in Vegas would they... auction off dinosaur bones?"

Well, no. There have been dinosaur bone and fossil auctions all over the world since man started finding the things. But someone thought this counts as clever writing.