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SLCR #145: Wayne Newton (December 15, 2009)

I blame fighting for this.

A little better than a year ago, the two hosts of a pro wrestling and mixed martial arts website I frequent went to Las Vegas for a UFC event (Brock Lesnar vs. Randy Couture, if you’re keeping score). The night before the fight, one of the site’s subscribers sets them up with front row tickets to see Wayne Newton. After the show, they recorded a podcast where they couldn’t stop talking about Newton’s showmanship and charisma. So many months later, when I was browsing the casino’s list of upcoming events and I saw that Wayne Newton was coming to town – not an impersonator, not a tribute band, not "Nearly Newton" as one coworker suggested – I figured that I had to go. This just isn’t the kind of opportunity that comes around every day.

Normally when writing a concert review, I listen to the artist in question. But I don’t have any Wayne Newton songs, so I’m listening to that podcast instead. Being slightly more familiar with Wayne Newton now than I was a year ago, I laughed when they complimented his "great tan." I guess they were unaware (as I was at the time) that Wayne Newton is, well, "one-half Indian." When you’re Wayne Newton (or if you’re just one-half Indian, I guess), you don’t have to use politically correct terminology. His exact line was "I’m one-half Indian, one-quarter German, and one-quarter Irish, so I can’t drink at all," but I’m getting ahead of myself.

I figured that nobody would want to go with me to Wayne Newton, so I only picked up one balcony ticket. It turns out that my dad is a big fan, which, really, should surprise nobody. There was also one guy at work who was heartbroken when he found out about the show, because he was busy that night and couldn’t make it. "I want to go over to the casino and punch Wayne Newton right in the face," said another coworker, who just happens to be the kidnapper of Mr. Peeps.

The casino was the perfect venue for a good ol’ Las Vegas stage show, made better by my wise decision to throw $20 into my favourite slot machine. Four spins later, I cashed out with $50. That almost makes up for the money that the goddamn no-good dirty cheating Price is Right Plinko slot machine stole from me five years ago. Sometimes my favourite slot machine takes my money too – it took $10 back from me after the concert – but it does so in an open and honest manner. I can respect that.

Before the show, while I was spamming Twitter with updates because I had five minutes to kill, I noted that I saw what appeared to be bongos, two guitars, two banjos, a keyboard, drums, and six chairs which I thought might be for a small choir, since this was not just a Wayne Newton show, but THE Wayne Newton CHRISTMAS show. Oh yes. It turned out that the band I envisioned in my mind was not even close to what we actually got. There were drummers, a pianist (do you still call them that if they’re playing keyboards?), three backup singers, and a bunch of people playing brass instruments and flutes and violins and cellos. It was pretty impressive – by my count, there were 21 people on stage, including Wayne Newton himself.

A Vegas show was what I wanted, and it was what we got. Wayne switched between his classics and Christmas carols, told corny jokes, repeatedly introduced members of the band, and said "ladies and gentlemen" more often than any person in history. He poked fun at Regina ("they took me out today and showed me the sight") while telling us what a special crowd we were, and that as a result, they were going to play songs that they hadn’t planned on. Presumably, these were the same songs that they don’t plan to play but inevitably play every night. At the closing note of every song, he’d reach up toward the spotlight and make like he was turning it out. All that was missing was him telling us to tip our servers and enjoy the buffet.

So was it as good as I’d been promised? Well, to be honest, probably not, but the bar had been set pretty high. It was fun, and certainly different from my normal fare. More than anything else so far this year, it put me in the Christmas spirit. I don’t imagine I’d go see him again if he came back, but I imagine you really only need to see Wayne Newton once for the full experience.

In the days following the show, the most common questions I heard about it were "did he play Danke Schoen?" (of course, he closed with it) and "does he still have his voice?" That one is kind of tricky for me to answer, since I really don’t have any frame of reference. I wouldn’t describe his voice as being anything special, but I don’t know if it ever was.

I also got asked about the crowd. This time out, I was far from being the oldest, greyest, baldest, fattest, or wrinkliest person at the show. It was a nice change from the past several shows. Or, really, the past several years.

Friday, March 19: Hawksley Workman (Darke Hall, Regina)
Monday, May 10: Our Lady Peace (Clumsy set; Conexus Arts Centre, Regina)

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