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Big stars energize first night of iHeart music fest

Vacuum-packed in an airtight black leather jacket, the dude with the chunky shades asked the crowd how many of them were from Las Vegas, and it was one of the only times of the evening that the audience didn’t explode like a punctured keg.

It was the beginning of the first night of the iHeartRadio Music Festival at the MGM Grand Garden on Friday, and Black Eyed Peas main man will.i.am was gauging the geographical origin of the packed house.

First, he wondered aloud how many people actually lived in the city where the show was taking place.

Muffled cheers.

Then he asked about New Mexico, Phoenix, L.A., even London, to a more robust response.

By the time he got to New York, the venue had grown increasingly loud, as it became clear that thousands had traveled far and wide to this two-day concert featuring some of the biggest names in rock, pop, country and hip-hop.

Jay-Z, Alicia Keys, Coldplay and others performed on Friday, while Lady Gaga, with a guest spot from Sting, Kenny Chesney and Jennifer Lopez, to name just a few, took the stage on Saturday.

The shows were also broadcast online and on various radio stations and streamed on XboxLive.

As such, it all had an interactive feel, with a Twitter map frequently projected on a large screen behind the stage showing where across the country that listeners were responding to the show.

The mood of the fest was jubilant, with an air of mutual appreciation among the performers.

“I would have given anything a few years ago to see a show like this,” country starlet Carrie Underwood gushed on Friday.

The pace of the shows were brisk, with a revolving stage that enabled bands to set up while another performed, reducing down time between acts, making the concerts as fat free as the waifs who stare out from the pages of “Cosmo.”

The festival coincides with the launch of the new iHeartRadio app, which allows listeners to tune into 800 radio and digital-only stations from cities across the country.

While the number of radio listeners in total has ebbed and flowed in recent years, the medium has struggled in the 12- to 24-year-old demographic, which is not only a crucial group for advertisers but also for sustaining a future audience base.

According to a report published in Media Life Magazine last fall, the time that age group listens to the radio per day has fallen almost in half in the last 10 years, and now ranks behind time spent watching TV and on the Internet.

So perhaps the Internet could be harnessed to radio’s benefit?

Surely, that played into the thinking behind a fest like this, with its emphasis on social media and a lineup with plenty of youth skewing acts such as Bruno Mars, Nicki Minaj and DJ David Guetta.

Speaking of Mars, his set was among the stand-outs on Friday night.

Sporting a pompadour almost as large as the MGM Grand itself, Mars’ performance was rooted in an era, the ’60s, when much of his audience had yet to be born.

Some of it was mere aesthetics — the aforementioned coif, the natty matching suits of his backing band, complete with punchy horn section.

But there were also doo-wop flourishes and an organic, lived-in feel to some of his tunes that was evocative of the warmth of classic R&B.

It made sense then, that Mars would pay tribute to another soul throwback, Amy Winehouse, reprising his performance at the MTV Music Awards in August, where he played Winehouse’s cover of The Zutons’ “Valerie.”

It was a heartfelt moment, a way of moving forward by looking back, the same of which could be said of this festival itself.

Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at
jbracelin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476.

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