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‘Viva’ lives on, from Elvis to Bette Midler to The Killers

Updated February 4, 2018 - 10:32 am

You can never tell when, where or even why you will to hear this song.

Wednesday, it was during “The Cocktail Cabaret” at Caesars Palace. Thursday, it was during the new “Brilliant” light show at Neon Museum, which resurrects many of the city’s famous, decommissioned hotel-casino signs.

Friday, it was as I walked into Westgate Las Vegas — the building in which Elvis headlined for seven years — with The King himself singing of bright lights setting his soul on fire.

“Viva Las Vegas” is everywhere, still, in this city. Vegas’s own rock superstars The Killers performed their version of the song Saturday night in their first show at MGM Grand Garden. The band called an audible for that show; the song hasn’t shown up on any set list from its ongoing world tour.

ZZ Top performs “Viva Las Vegas,” too, and they are to headline The Venetian Theater in April. I even heard it performed inside Cleopatra’s Barge at Caesars Palace, during a medley in the wonderful, “The Cocktail Cabaret.”

With all the “Viva” happening, and with more than 310,000 tourists are flooding VegasVille for Super Bowl weekend, now seems as good a time as any to sing the “Viva” tune. We’d assembled a list, years ago, of favorite “Viva Las Vegas” renditions. The new, improved lineup is 13, because we feel so confident about our bet on the Eagles (the football team, not the rock band) that we’ll tempt bad luck:

13. Engelbert Humperdinck. Sort of a free-flowing take on the tune; many are not aware E.H. has even sung it, but he has, and he takes it seriously.

12. “The Cocktail Cabaret.” Eric Jordan Young, Niki Scalera, Maren Wade and Daniel Emmet slide a few lines into their nearly unbroken rollout of contemporary tunes at Caesars Palace. A cover of the entire song would send this crew up the list.

11. Dead Kennedys. Their punked-out version was suitably delivered in the film, “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” It was recorded long before, though, in 1978.

10. The UNLV pep band. The song’s effect is conditional on the Runnin’ Rebels’ on-court performance at the Thomas & Mack Center. It soars after a victory against San Diego State; it can’t end fast enough after a loss to Air Force.

9. Sin City Sinners. The longtime Vegas club rockers toy with the song on their CD, “Exile on Fremont Street.” Worth a spin, that one.

8. Bette Midler. Backed by The Caesars Salad Girls dance troupe, Midler played the song during her run at The Colosseum in 2008-2010.

7. Billy Joel. He pulled out “Viva” in a two-song medley, pairing it with “Suspicious Minds,” at T-Mobile Arena in May 2016. He even pulled on a pair of oversized Elvis shades, as if auditioning for “Legends in Concert.” Joel also teamed with Elton John on the song when the two toured together in the ’90s, but Elton has not played the song in his run at The Colosseum.

6. U2. They played an abbreviated version at Sam Boyd Stadium in October 2009. Among the VIPs in attendance, then-Sen. Harry Reid, former President Bill Clinton and will.i.am.

5. Wayne Newton. Recorded in the mid-1990s, it happens to be the song I use to open my radio show each week. He ends with a hearty, “Yeah!” And so do I.

4. Bruce Springsteen. In the days of the Las Vegas Wranglers, Orleans Arena rocked with Bruce’s turn on the tune. The minor-league hockey team played it after every home victory.

3. ZZ Top. Effective use of slot-machine sound effects; great video, too. You really want to hang with these guys in Vegas, and soon we’ll get the chance. Their show’s subtitle, even, is ‘Viva Las Vegas.”

2. Elvis. The song essentially serves as Vegas’s tourism anthem. Maybe it’s bad karma to go against Presley as No. 1, but the song is a bit dated. That’s its charm, of course, and would be be the top of the pops if it weren’t for …

1. The Killers. The band plays song only during live shows (and not even guaranteed at MGM Grand) on not yet on CD, but dang, it smokes, Brandon Flowers nods and calls out the lyrics, as if to say, “You know what I”m talking about.” The song closed the Vegas Strong Benefit Concert in Dec. 1. Whenever you have Flowers harmonizing with the likes of Penn Jillette, Carrot Top and Mr. Las Vegas, you have a Vegas moment that can’t be beat.

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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