The man lies still on the street, his head ripped off beside his body. He doesn’t move in the heat of the afternoon. A mother and child check their step, and stare. Everybody else carries on, unmoved, in pursuit of the next big win at Blackjack. The child looks up at his mother for reassurance. She smiles, presses something into his hand and nudges him toward the man on the floor. Looking anxious as he passes the dismembered head, he summons up the courage to hand over the dollar bill clutched feverishly in his fist. The man on the floor opens his eyes, breathes out a rasp and takes a swig from a can of Red Bull. He raises himself to his feet, puts the dollar in his tip bag and picks up his head. The boy’s face turns to a smile as the man once more becomes Buzz Lightyear. Welcome to Las Vegas.
The strip is congested with entertainers dressed up as kids characters and fried-peanut-butter-sandwich-era Elvis. Las Vegas is in the realm of fantasy of all kinds, but always with the grounding presence of the tip bag. Being a man, I can’t walk more than twenty paces without being invited to go to a strip club none of which, ironically are on the strip itself. Being some distance away, they require a complimentary trip in a stretched limo with windows tinted as black as the soul. A man snaps his business cards, I turn my head and he thrusts one in my direction - Orgasm Clinic. The next guy wears a T-shirt which promises
“Girls delivered to your hotel room in under 20 minutes!”
I’ve had pizzas which take longer. I walk on looking for somewhere for lunch. I avoid the In-’n’-Out Burger- it promises a little too much at this point in the tour. Vegas isn’t really my kind of place, but most people seem to be enjoying themselves. Chris Richards summed it up when he said that he felt that he was being told to enjoy himseIf all the time - see a show, have a drink, enjoy girls, gasp at the hotels, win in the casinos...it was all too much stimulation for me and despite a kind of neon beauty at night, I longed for Mariposa again.
I was unsure exactly who was going to come to the concert given the legendary status of the shows here. Competing with the likes of Britney Spears, David Copperfield, Penn and Teller and even Olivia Newton John, I couldn’t see a place for us in the schedule. I needn’t have worried. The new hall here is fantastic and the capacity audience applauded with the same gusto I imagine Elton John was getting across town. After a late night meal, a free day beckoned. I don’t know whose bright idea it was to give us a day off in Vegas, but they did. A few of us went to ‘O’, the Cirque du Soleil show. I can’t really describe it, unique as it was, but it was a magical evening. Others really went to town and taking the old adage, what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas at it’s most literal, managed to miss the flight the next morning.
Once we fly high enough, the desert and self styled sin city disappears behind the clouds. I sleep restlessly. An hour later, we begin our descent into Seattle. The thinning cloud, like Salome’s veils, gives shocking glimpses of woodland and sea. After several days in the desert, the sight of vegetation on the ground is a welcome surprise, my pupils gratefully dilate. Seattle couldn’t be more different. It seems to plough it’s own path. It may have just been me, but I saw few references to it’s fictional history, there were no Hanks and Ryan souvenirs to be had, I saw no pseudo psychiatrists analyzing Frasier. Seattle for me took me back to my student days, and the sounds of Mudhoney and Nirvana filled my ears. I searched out Sub Pop records, old poster shops and vinyl before the rehearsal. The final concert and subsequent party were full of an end of term atmosphere - MTT’s speech to the orchestra will go down in LSO folklore - I can say no more!
Unusually, the flight home (where I am writing this, somewhere over Canada) wasn’t until the afternoon on the day after the show. I took a trip to Seattle’s excellent EMP museum, where my inner geek thrilled at handwritten notes, personal photos, recollections and smashed guitars of Kurt Cobain. He was the singer and guitarist of Nirvana, a small band from Aberdeen in Washington state who took the Seattle music scene by storm in the late 80’s. What’s a flute player in the LSO doing listening to Smells Like Teen Spirit you may ask? Well. Music is music is music, I’ve never felt the need to categorise into iGenres and songs. The thing is, as with any great singer, and I’m not talking about technique, he speaks to the soul. If I’d spoken a different language and had no translation of his words, I’d have still understood him perfectly. When I listen to him sing ‘Where did you sleep last night,’ from the MTV unplugged concert, one of his last, the sound he makes, the pain he describes, the howl and roars leap from the speakers in a way that only happens with a truly great artist. A combination of fragility, fame, drugs and a whole lot more lead him to point a gun at his own head at the age of 27. In the EMP museum, for me his smashed guitars are a poignant reminder of what can happen when that road to Vegas goes wrong.
His band were signed to Geffen records which takes me back to the start of this tour. It was the early days of March when we played at Avery Fisher Hall in New York City. It will soon be renamed David Geffen hall after his enormous personal donation. The pop mogul funds the classical concert hall. It turns out it’s not just pop that eats itself.
We’ll be back in New York in October but I can’t wait to get home now. It’s been a blast but for now, the London Symphony Orchestra has left the building.
This is my personal blog. All views are my own and are not endorsed by any of the organisations I work for.