There Was an '80s Glam-Metal Revival at a Casino in the Mountains

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For the last handful of years, some rock bands of an older vintage have been brought in to Lava Room inside the Reserve Hotel and Casino. Over the weekend, it was L.A. Guns, the band that helped spawn Guns N' Roses.

When you're thinking of going to a rock show, Central City is not the first place that comes to mind, especially considering all the options available in Denver. For the unacquainted, Central City is a quaint touristy town with a strange graveyard and Herndon Davis's well-known Face on the Barroom Floor painting in the Teller House Bar. It takes seemingly endlessly winding roads to get to the town, a slice of Las Vegas with bright lights on small-town tall buildings, nestled into a crack between mountains

The streets looked deserted. Inside the casino proper, the surreal quality of the place was immediate, at least if you don't go to casinos regularly. It certainly has the same air and vibe of a modern Las Vegas casino. Slot machines are stacked in aisles along the edges of the large, lengthy middle room

Still, the whole thing didn't have that well-used, grimy feel coupled with an ineffable sense of ambient desperation that a lot of the older Las Vegas casinos seem to have. Sure, there were the usual games hosted by dealers and the like, but it didn't feel like there was a lot of pressure on you to part with your money.

The Lava Room itself had polished wood floors and TV monitors around the semi-circular room showing a view of the stage. The latter is set down below the second floor. There are two tiers before the floor before the stage, and that dance floor was packed with people who seemed very into L.A. Guns and who seemed to know the words to "Kiss My Love Goodbye," "Electric Gypsy," and "Ballad of Jayne."

Of course, the crowd looked like people that remembered the band well from their youth in the '80s. There was no nonchalant arm-crossing -- the people who showed up seemed happy to see one of the better bands of the heavy glam-rock scene of L.A. in the '80s. No one who is still into this music is ambivalent about it. There was no ironic enjoyment of the show, and there's something refreshing about that no matter what the music.

The guys in the band certainly seemed to be well aware of what they were doing, where they were doing it and for whom. But the humor -- certainly lighthearted -- was directed at the situation. It was no stadium of people chanting the band's name, but that probably isn't going to be happening for much of anyone whose appeal these days is based partly in nostalgia, despite the new albums L.A. Guns have been writing and recording well into the 2000s Phil Lewis may be 57, but he doesn't sing like he's ready for retirement. Sure, he brought an oxygen tank on stage for the encore, presumably as a joke, but people far younger have done the same thing not as a joke. And he could joke with his band in good spirits and show unforced enthusiasm for covering Black Sabbath's "Fairies Wear Boots." With its legacy of hits, the band didn't have to do any covers, and it picked one of Sabbath's strangest songs. In that environment, dressed up like they were ready to take stage at the Troubadour or Gazzari's, the band didn't get too rowdy, but it didn't play like some museum piece with no spontaneity, either.

It might be easy to dismiss a band of that era of American rock for anyone that wasn't in those musical circles in the '80s. But what made this show noteworthy, even if these guys didn't melt your face or whatever what one might expect of "metal," is that they played the kind of hard rock that takes some skill to execute with some good sense of songwriting making that possible. And they dressed up to make it seem like something different from everyday life. There's something to be said for the utter unpretentiousness of people getting on stage in the clothes they would wear any day for any occasion, but giving an easy visual element to a performance by looking the part is no crime, either, and contributes greatly to the ambience of a show.

The superb sound quality of the venue helped, too. Crisp and clear, it let the band sound exactly what it's supposed to sound like, and to its credit, L.A. Guns didn't need a lot of help -- there's no need to try to cover anything up with tricks. Even though a casino is kind of a strange place to see a show in general, it happens all the time, and at least the Lava Room is an interesting space where worthwhile shows can happen.

Critic's Notebook

Bias: In the '80s, I was a bit of a fan of L.A. Guns and the song "Electric Gypsy."

Random Detail: There were some Ralph Steadman-esque rock posters in the hallway from the elevator into the casino featuring Mothers of Invention, Jimi Hendrix and Fleetwood Mac.

By the Way: The staff at Reserve Casino and Hotel was very friendly, very professional and they didn't make you feel like you were putting them out in any way. I really appreciated the people that run things at this place, from the guy that handles the press stuff to the door people and the people in the coffee shop.

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If you'd like to contact me, Tom Murphy, on Twitter, my handle is @simianthinker.

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