For decades, Vegas has had fabulous long-running live acts (say, Celine Dion parts one and two—I even went to her 200th performance), plus mainstays like Donnie and Marie, Elton John, Rod Stewart and Britney Spears. They're all worth seeing, of course. But for a long time, Las Vegas didn’t have much a live music scene in the sense that you couldn’t easily go hear music that wasn't a major production (or necessarily a big-ticket item). Indeed, it wasn’t until venues like The Joint at Hard Rock, Chelsea and Boulevard Pool at The Cosmopolitan and Brooklyn Bowl moved in that we’ve had such variety in our live-music repertoire. Now, mini-residencies like Kiss and Rascal Flatts are shaking up the way we plan our evenings out. (Otherwise, until fairly recently, a night out meant picking among eight Cirque du Soleil Shows, Celine, or the curiously alike stylings of several big-name DJs.) Here are some of the best of Vegas’s live-music venues, from the intimate to the unabashedly over-the-top spectacles:
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At 80,000 square feet, the new Brooklyn Bowl Las Vegas, located in The Linq, isn’t intimate per se. It’s a sprawling entertainment complex with multiple bars and seating areas, craft beer and upscale comfort food, a 32-lane bowling alley, and a concert arena holding 2,000 people. But the venue is divided into separate sections so it never feels overwhelming. Plus, you can bowl while you listen, thanks to sophisticated acoustics that muffle the sound of pins dropping. While it’s the third outpost of a franchise that started in Brooklyn, it’s a game changer on for the Strip, bridging the gab between the ultrachic (and usually ultra-expensive) style of a Strip nightclub and the laid-back vibe of a locals’ joint. Check the calendar for what’s coming, because the variety is astounding, from rock, rap, reggae and country to hip-hop and New Orleans jazz. Incidentally, it’s also a good venue for families—before 8 p.m.—where you can shoe-up even the tiniest bowlers before the concert crowds set in.
Boulevard Pool at The Cosmopolitan
The main pool at the Cosmopolitan’s Boulevard Pool converts into a platform to hold up to 3,000 people for the “Set Your Life to Music” concert series (and this year, it served as my formal introduction to Iggy Azalea, who seemed to become a Vegas fixture thereafter). During the Thursday night performances, the concert venue projects its performers onto the 65-foot screen, so everyone can get a little glimpse. And, you can get an unobstructed view of the Las Vegas Strip. (Just spring for VIP cabana seats with bottle service on the second floor, so you don’t have to hang with the sweaty mob on the pool level.)
Chelsea at the Cosmopolitan
The Chelsea, which was gutted and reconfigured last year, is considered The Cosmopolitan’s “intimate” venue, which never ceases to amuse me, since it’s a 40,000 square foot venue split over two levels which can accommodate somewhere north of 3,000 people (it can be reconfigured various ways). The vibe is 1940s-glam-meets-industrial, with gorgeous Art Deco metalwork and a lounge upstairs where you can sit on couches and order from the bar—not your usual pack-’em-in concert venue. In 2013, it was the perfect venue for the New Year’s Eve debut of Bruno Mars, and in 2014 hosted Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga for that year’s New Year’s celebration. Throughout the year, it’s host to a variety of fun concerts.
The Joint at the Hard Rock
Many of the biggest names in music have played The Joint in Hard Rock since it first opened in 1995, including The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Coldplay, The Killers and more. But the Joint doubled its space in 2009, now accommodating 4,000 people in a three-level venue that includes 700 fixed balcony seats, general-admission standing room on the floor and a second level VIP area with luxury boxes. But the “mini-residencies” are the greatest new thing about The Joint: KISS played a three-month stint here in 2014, followed by Rascal Flatts, with a nine-appearance residency, in 2015. The farthest seat in the house is 155 feet from the stage—pretty great viewing for any concert. Plus, massive motorized screens on each side of the stage project all the action all the way to the back.
The Colosseum at Caesars
Consider a massive theater based on the ancient Colosseum in Rome, though with 10 motorized stage lifts; 200 acoustical panels to control amplified sound; a state-of-the-art humidity control system; and a completely motorized backstage, all to the tune of about $95 million. Nothing is too good for perpetual money-earner Celine Dion (on break right now due to some family health concerns), for whom the Colosseum was originally built. With all the incredible technology—including a $10 million, 120-foot-wide by 40-foot-tall LED screen, which provides the illusion of 3D stage scenery (it’s the largest LED screen in North America)—this is one of the most awe-inducing performance spaces in America. And while it’s considered to be Celine’s theater, it also hosts other entertainers in its 4,296 capacity room, including Cher, Bette Midler, Elton John, Rod Stewart and Shania Twain—and Reba McEntire, Brooks & Dunn have just signed on where Shania left off. Find a concert there while you visit; the experience alone warrants a ticket.