‘Vault’ returns, refreshed and ready

When John Payne came to Las Vegas to launch “Raiding the Rock Vault,” he planned on a three-month stint — even if the show was a hit.

“I envisioned starting the show, doing it for three months, and leaving. Just collecting a royalty,” he says.

Instead, he bought a house in Henderson.

“It has to work now,” he says with a laugh about his new mortgage.

But it turns out “Rock Vault,” a merrily over-the-top history of classic rock, is as much fun to perform as it is to watch.

“I enjoy it so much every night it doesn’t get boring. And that’s quite a surprise. I imagine there must be some shows where people go, ‘Here we go again, doing the same thing.’ ”

“Vault” opens for a second year at the Las Vegas Hotel on Friday, with a few changes in the lineup and content, and more support from its host property.

Rick White, who oversees entertainment for LVH, says the show is “now a partnership” with producer Harry Cowell, rather than purely the rent-paying tenant it was when it opened last March.

The hotel also took the helm of a new ad campaign that more boldly explains what the show is and what it isn’t, i.e., the Broadway musical “Rock of Ages.”

“We spent a year making a brand,” says Payne, the British singer-bassist who co-created the show. He figured it would take three months to dig in, but attendance was “a roller coaster” of ups and downs, and “it took more like seven or eight months before we saw it starting to turn.”

“Vault” wrapped for the year in November, and Payne says the creators tweaked maybe 15 percent of it during the hiatus. Goodbye Bryan Adams’ “Run to You,” hello AC/DC medley.

The new choices better fit the flow of the nearly two-hour show and offer something new for a surprising fan base of repeat-customer locals. “I thought Vegas was (the movie) ‘Groundhog Day’: Live through the same day with a completely different audience,” Payne says.

The creators also responded to requests for female representation, adding two Las Vegas women who will now trade off nights in the show: Carol-Lyn Liddle and Stephanie Calvert, who tours with Starship.

And one of the group’s guitarists, Tracii Guns, has been replaced by Doug Aldrich, a longtime member of Whitesnake.

Payne says the ensemble of almost-famous rockers — including singer Robin McAuley and former Heart guitarist Howard Leese — has mostly overcome “the early conflicts and posturing” that were “bound to happen when you get 10 guys that have seen it, done it, and now they’re having to take different roles than they’re used to having.”

Despite an expanded schedule — also part of the new partnership — that will have “Rock Vault” in the room for 46 weeks this year, Payne says his other band, Asia featuring John Payne, will release a new album, “Americana.” Lacking a long window for touring, he hopes to promote the album with a concert and fan gathering at LVH next fall. …

The Bonkerz Comedy Cub inside the Plaza is a low-profile operation. Maybe you didn’t even know it was there. But don’t worry. If you don’t get down there, it may come to see you.

The brand is multiplying “just like little comedy rabbits,” jokes Bonkerz owner Joe Sanfelippo.

A stand-up bill at 7 p.m. Thursday is the rare ticketed show to play in the House of Blues Foundation Room atop Mandalay Bay. Sanfelippo is hoping to do shows there at least once a month.

And on Feb. 6, Bonkerz opens at Rampart Casino, debuting as a once-a-week operation on Thursdays.

“These are more like comedy series,” Sanfelippo says of the mobile format that avoids the fixed overhead of a full-time club.

The Rampart operation will look like one though, taking over the Edge Lounge which can seat about 200 people. The weekly comedy night won’t feature big names but will offer headliners with TV credits and visibility, including Grandma Lee of “America’s Got Talent” fame on Feb. 13 and Greg Vaccariello on Feb. 27.

The Foundation Room will be even cozier, seating 80 to 100 people for a debut event headlined by Kathleen Dunbar, with support from Lou Magelowitz and Warren Durso, who has a continuing, three-nights-per-week residency at the Plaza location. …

Finally, “Late Night with Carlos Santana”?

The 66-year-old guitarist, who starts his last confirmed batch of shows at the House of Blues on Saturday, says he is “trying to convince people here in Las Vegas to have our own TV show … our own TV show that is the same standard or higher than Jay Leno or David Letterman.”

He did not nominate himself to host. But he does know what he would like to see.

“We can do more than talk about insignificant, stupid stuff every night and really talk about stuff that, when you wake up in the morning, you feel good about it. We can have uplifting stuff. Show business and entertainment doesn’t have to be shallow, hollow, pretentious superficial and/or predictable.”

Apparently, “Naked Vegas” wasn’t good enough for him.

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.

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