LAS VEGAS — This is the city where Americans go to have big fun doing things that seem absolutely terrible, and on a recent Saturday night, hundreds of them went to see Tiësto.
These bacchanalians were no dopes. The best reason to go see Tiësto at one of his three current Las Vegas nightclub residencies is not because you want to hear the planet’s second-highest paid DJ spin swollen, vanilla-sweet dance music, but because you seek the classic Las Vegas experience of low-stakes funtimes staged in an environment of expensive theatricality and unblinking grandeur. In this sense, Tiësto is the Wayne Newton of the 21st century. Everyone else is here to have a great night.
Runner-up reason to see Tiësto in Vegas: You love the sensation of being surrounded by a lot of people and a lot of sound all at once. Same goes for visiting the city itself. Yes, Las Vegas remains one of the great retinal wonders of our unnatural world, but don’t forget that the Strip has been wired for audio since the dawn of Muzak. For more than half a century, airborne melody has saturated this place, with speakers now so thoroughly embedded in the architecture — in ceilings, walls, elevators, topiary — you half-expect to hear a new Justin Bieber single whenever you lift a toilet seat.
But let’s get back to that recent Saturday night, and into Omnia, the flashing danceteria nested inside Caesars Palace where Tiësto is about to celebrate his 50th birthday by playing benign dance records at unrelenting volumes while only looking 43, tops.
Like any good nightclub, Omnia speaks to our primordial memories of the enchanted cave. True mysteries will only reveal themselves where the sun casts no light, so here we are, not-quite-dancing in the not-quite-dark. Look upward, into the candy-colored glow, and you might spot a disco angel rappelling from the ceiling on golden cables. This is how bottle service works at Omnia — acrobats in precious-metallic swimsuits deliver champagne like divine messengers from on high. It’s extraordinary. But don’t stare too long, or else the bearded security grunts (who all look like Bryce Harper) will violently blink their little flashlights in your eyeballs and tell you that you can’t stand there. So you let your muscles go slack in the wall-to-wall throng, allowing your body to be pushed around the club like a happy dandelion spore.
Who are your fellow spores? They look like claims adjusters from Charlotte, or software programmers from San Jose, but ask them who-what-where-they-came-from and these baffled party people will only ever reply, “WHAT??” The club’s sound system is simply too powerful for your weak chitchat, and before you can ask again, the churn of the crowd sweeps you away, leaving both parties wondering if the other was a narc.
It’s after midnight now, and people aren’t really dancing, but they are singing, especially when the warm-up DJ plays a song that everybody knows, for instance, “All Star” by Smash Mouth. (Really!) It’s as if we’re all doing karaoke in the slowest, gentlest mosh pit, where everyone smells nice and nobody wants to spill their drink — hundreds of dressed-up strangers rubbing against each other to some of the corniest songs imaginable. Frottage cheese.
Then, at the stroke of 1:02 a.m., they bring out the birthday boy. Omnia’s DJ booth is positioned in the center of the room, not unlike a boxing ring, which requires Tiësto to emerge from a hidden door and walk down an aisle guarded by at least six Bryce Harpers. Unlike those guys, Tiësto wears his face shaven clean, garnished with the handsome quarter-smile of an astronaut striding toward liftoff, even though his carefree gait evokes a boxer who’s about to get pummeled bloody. Maybe that’s why he’s almost smiling. Tiësto knows he’s about to win no matter what.
Because after a long day of risk-taking out on the casino floors, everyone assembled inside this romper room is eager to feel a big surge of total certainty, a plush 4/4 beat that won’t stop appearing beneath their feet. And once the music starts, it feels ripe, and everyone seems happy, and every 10 minutes or so, a giant smoke machine flash-fogs the dance floor like God’s fire extinguisher, and when the haze evaporates, you can always see Tiësto up at his control panel, grinning his biggest NASA grin, genuinely delighted. The metaphor hits you over the brainstem five times harder than the beat. Tiësto really is the Wayne Newton of the 21st century. When the smoke clears, he’ll still be here.
But it isn’t until our hero cues up “Otherside” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers that his full proposition finally snaps into complete, blazing focus. “Otherside” is a rock song from 20 years ago, the kind of music you hear out there, out in your real life, out in the aisles of Target while you squeeze different brands of paper towels. The wild, wild night suddenly feels very, very normal.
Glass half-empty, this cave is not enchanted.
Glass half-full? Fantasy and reality are eternally conjoined. Oz is Kansas. Vegas is Charlotte. Life is but a dream. This man is but a DJ, but he knows how to fly everybody’s kites on the twin currents of banality and optimism. And if you’re not hard-wired to see the glass half-full, why would you even come to Las Vegas in the first place? Happy birthday, Tiësto!