Ten years on, Pearl at the Palms still a Las Vegas gem

The ACM Party For a Cause sauntered into Pearl Concert Theater on Friday night with the Academy of Country Music Awards Songwriter Showcase. Miranda Lambert turned up to close the performance, as a “surprise,” or “unbilled” guest star on night dotted with appearances by Dierks Bentley, Brandy Clark, Cam and Dean Dillon, among others.

Lori McKenna was presented the ACM Songwriter of the Year award, in advance of Sunday’s ACM Awards show at T-Mobile Arena, which will air at 8 p.m. Pacific Time on CBS.

Meantime, the country lineup at Pearl underscores the many artists who have headlined over the years at the 2,500-seat venue. The Pearl turns 10 next week, marking the occasion Thursday night with the first of a two-night engagement by alt-rockers A Perfect Circle.

It seems not so long ago that then-Palms owner George Maloof led me on a hardhat tour of the under-construction facility, talking of the wonderful shows and events he’d planned there. Maloof’s vision to entice the rising stars of contemporary music along with bona fide rock legends to the stage were realized; his idea of Broadway tours stopping at the Pearl never happened (the Smith Center has since filled that void).

But the quality of entertainment has been plentiful since the theater opened a decade ago. In this ode to the facilty, my top-10 list of favorite Pearl experiences:

10: Gwen Stefani. She lifted the lid on the place, officially, April 21, 2007, kicking off her “Sweet Escape” tour. Maloof ordered up 160 tracker lights to trumpet the event.

9: Cheech & Chong. Gray and green was the color scheme as hippies of a certain age delighted in the duo’s reunion performances May 23-25, 2009. “Light Up America” was the tour title, and an audience filled with fans who might have been treating glaucoma had a high time, for sure.

8: Eric Ripert and Anthony Bourdain. “Good vs. Evil” was an onstage conversation on between the two culinary superstars on Feb. 9, 2013. Bourdain was especially verbose. During the Q&A segment of the show, an audience member asked the host of CNN’s “Parts Unknown” series, “What kind of drugs have you tried?” Having given up that lifestyle, Bourdain shot back, “All of them.”

7: Steely Dan. The band’s Aug. 29, 2009 show was precisely executed — no surprise there — with Don Fagen saying, “We’re going to play an old song now. Actually, they’re all old.” “Reelin’ in the Years” was the one-song encore, and even as the house lights went up and roadies disassembled the stage, much of the crowd lingered, as if refusing to accept the show was over.

6: Ringo Starr and his All-Starr Band. One of many Vegas venues for Ringo, performed March 15, 2015. Just before announcing “Yellow Submarine” he said, “If you don’t know this song, you’re at the wrong show.”

5: Bonnie Raitt. During her Feb. 17 show this year, she stopped to apply lipstick as she moved to the keyboard. “Hey, this is Vegas,” she said, classically, drawing a laugh from her audience. “Ya gotta make an effort.”

4: Lady Gaga. The Pearl caught her on the upswing to international fame with her “Monster Ball” tour, performing two nights Dec. 18-19, 2009. “Tonight, the freaks are outside,” she called out. The stage spectacle was very Madonna-meets-Wonder Woman, and hinted at her even more expansive arena tours to come.

3. Bruno Mars. With his grooving Hooligans backing band, Mars hit the stage and leveled the place — a harbinger of future shows in Vegas — on June 16, 2011. It was the first time I heard “Just the Way You Are” live, and have been forever hooked.

2. Kiss. The place rattled the night the band brought its current lineup of original members Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons, with drummer Eric Singer and guitarist Tommy Thayer to the Pearl on Nov. 28, 2009. Prior to the show, Stanley said of the band’s stage makeup, “It’s like our war paint.” The ensuing show was indeed a pyrotechnic assault.

1. Journey. Capping the band’s performance on Aug. 28, 2013, was a surprise appearance by Carlos Santana and Santana’s original keyboardist, Gregg Rolie. They joined Woodstock veteran and guitar great Neal Schon, also from Santana’s early lineup. The band roared through a five-minute rendition of “Soul Sacrifice,” marking the first time they’d been onstage together since 1972.

At one point, Santana dismissively kicked away confetti that had fallen onstage. It really was time to just rock out.

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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