Random notes on the state of Vegas spectacle, based on having seen the recent premiere of Criss Angel MINDFREAK Live at the Luxor
1. How good is Criss Angel MINDFREAK Live? So good that it apparently tore open a spacetime rift and cannonballed Robin Leach through it, as he declares the show, “The No. 1 Magic Show Of All Time!”
2. Which is to say, inasmuch as you can trust Robin Leach for his critical acumen, not that good. It’s two hours of Criss Angel’s greatest hits (swallowing razors, levitating, making motorcycles appear, sawing women in half) festooned with flames and leather, and pumped with a suspect urgency that suggests a professional crisis.
3. This isn’t necessarily Criss Angel’s fault. It probably has more to do with the fact that magic is dead. Sorry! But you know it’s true! You’ll enjoy MINDFREAK Live for its frenetic bombast if you go in knowing that all the tricks have been done — just the packaging changes. Our era of mythbusters, debunkers and our collective mania for behind-the-scenesy forensic explication has, for better or worse, completely bled the mystery out of things. (That’s why “street magic” from the likes of David Blaine [and Criss Angel] took off for a while — it was magic temporarily rescued from the suspect visual hyperbole of stage and studio! Then you realized they were all doing the same nine tricks.) The enjoyment of watching magic these days is, at best, a logic-puzzle appreciation of engineering and psychology. (See Penn & Teller.) That said, I felt like kind of a jaded jerk not being more excited during the show; like, every time a trick happened and there was, say, a sexy assistant grinning from inside a plastic box, freshly teleported from the hardcore cosmic plane of DIMENSION MINDFREAK, my internal monologue would be all, “Oh, neat ... ish.” Then I went into a self-conscious microspiral of introspective hashtag feels: #issomethingwrongwithme #sojaded #maybethelighthasdied #cansomeonehelpmeunderstand #iwanttobeexcited
4.Criss Angel’s solution to this is to make MINDFREAK Live a show largely about His Story. The pre-show video montage of Angel’s wonder years reveals a bright-eyed boy with a supportive, loving family; a teenager getting his first magic kit for Christmas; a goth scarecrow fronting an industrial band (with magic!); a dark prince of grand illusions with a rock-video emo mane and pneumatic pecs. You Get to Know Him. (In one segment, he chokes up as he pitches for a pediatric cancer charity, revealing that his 2-year-old son is battling leukemia.) This is worrisome for the ethos of Strip headliners. What does it mean when a marquee show is fundamentally retrospective, gazing backwards fondly upon greatest hits? It means it’s a lounge act, a cover band. Not that there’s anything wrong with a lounge act. When it’s in a lounge.
4.5 Okay, Criss Angel turning handkerchiefs into birds — almost at the pace and pressure of spraying a garden hose, but an invisible magic garden hose that shoots out white birds — was pretty cool. But maybe that’s in part because this comparatively understated, tastefully moody segment dispensed with his usual tropes, which involve vixens, industrial props and stylish gloom. It suggests an alternate path MINDFREAK Live could have taken.
5. Best takeaway psychic souvenir from the show: Criss Angel’s trademark catchphrase, “There’s just one question ... ARE YOU READY?!?!” This, delivered in a pained, genital-scrunching rebel screech. Super-fun to do Rickroll-style at home or at the office. (“Here’s that third-quarter earnings spreadsheet you requested. There’s just one question ... ARE YOU READY?!?!” “My math test was so hard, mom! There was just one question ... ARE YOU READY?!?!”)
6. At the end of MINDFREAK Live, I found myself, weirdly, hoping the tourists thought it was okay, in the mincing way of acknowledging, Alright, so the show’s not mind-blowingly great, but hey, Angel seemed to try hard, invest a lot of effort into it, and though it’s not the best he could’ve done, it represents a plausibly earnest effort ... right? Your mind was freaked a little ... right? Just a little?
6.5. There’s something amiss with Vegas entertainment when it inspires you to mime mental apologies to tourists.
7. Criss Angel: PLAUSIBLE EFFORTFREAK