Kendrick Lamar performs at Life Is Beautiful in downtown Las Vegas

Flashing Lights, Neon Nights: 31 Amazing Photos from 2015

Superstars of pop, rock, hip-hop, film and politics captured by Erik Kabik’s lens in Las Vegas


Eagle-eyed Cuepoint readers might remember the name Erik Kabik from the “Documenting The Grateful Way of Life” piece that ran earlier this year. The story told of how a passionate young shutterbug got his start in the 90s by shooting Jerry Garcia and company, which blossomed into a full-time Las Vegas photography career. In 2015, Kabik attended and shot over 300 concert performances, not to mention the Democratic and Republican debates. Kabik feels that over the last decade, Las Vegas has become the destination for live music.

“Las Vegas now has a growing number of world-class venues like The Joint, Vinyl, Brooklyn Bowl, the Chelsea, the Boulevard Pool, the Colosseum, and the Smith Center, to name a few,” says Kabik. “The Las Vegas residency shows are growing in volume and are something that totally makes the city unique in comparison to any other city in the world. There’s a constant influx of amazing talent on all levels from major headliners to regional touring bands playing clubs. When you throw in all the DJs as well, what you have is the greatest city for live entertainment in the world.”

Cuepoint spoke with Kabik about some of his best photos of the year, each taken in the city of sin.

Photography Erik Kabik


Jennifer Lopez

“That was shot on New Year’s Eve, this past year, at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace. It was before she announced her Las Vegas residency show, which is coming up. Technically it was the first photo of the year and she ended up really liking those photos and took them on to the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. She had prints of them and was holding them up on TV (laughs). Seeing that she liked them meant the world to me.”


Rise Against

“That’s Rise Against at Rock In Rio. I loved when they jumped into the crowd. It ended up having a great backdrop with the sky that night. I love that photo, it worked out great. Rise Against ended up using that in their social media and stuff too. On a handful of these, if I get the stamp of approval from them, then I feel even better about it.”


Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga

“That was at Planet Hollywood, at the Axis Theatre. I was psyched to get to shoot that. They don’t have a lot of photographers shooting at their shows. There’s usually one photographer there. So I was happy to get something exclusive like that. It’s a good moment, I like the interaction between them there.”


Dead & Company with John Mayer

“This is the tour that they were on, right after they did the Grateful Dead 50th anniversary shows in San Francisco and Chicago in the stadiums. They started up a new band called Dead & Company with John Mayer and did two nights at MGM Grand in Vegas. They had pretty cool production. I’m just happy that some of the guys that started me off in this business are still doing it and bringing in young people like John Mayer to carry the torch to the next generation.”


Amy Schumer

“She’s great. I shot her at The Cosmopolitan and The Chelsea a couple of times this year and she always has a bottle of wine on stage. She liked this take and said I could run it. She just had a huge year, she’s blown up with movies and everything. Pop culture icon of the moment, for sure.”


Gwen Stefani

“That’s from Rock In Rio, again. It was a really great photo shoot for me. Gwen looks incredible, she hasn’t changed that much over the years. They had these cool backgrounds and I just liked that one. Big palettes of color behind the artist, it’s unusual. There’s a bunch of those in my gallery with these blues and greens and purples. It’s just so cool, you don’t see that a lot. It’s a great way to be able to shoot these people.”


Neil Young

“I get asked often people what is your favorite show of the year that you shot, and personally, that was my favorite concert of the year, of the 300 performances I attended and shot. It was a very difficult shoot, there was almost no light and it was very dark. I was at the soundboard in the back of the room with a long lens, so I was just waiting for his harmonica to reflect up and maybe light his face up a little bit (laughs). I was able to snap a couple and I caught his eyes a little bit in that darkness. It’s a little bit ominous to some, but to me it reflects Neil Young, an intense, deep kind of guy.”


Steven Tyler

“That was Aerosmith at MGM. I’ve shot them a few times over the years. That was my favorite shoot with them because it was perfect lighting. Sometimes you shoot these bands and they are doing smoke, red lights, haze and you are in a tough spot. We were right in front of the stage with perfect light. Iconic shots of those guys.”


Justin Bieber

“Bieber at Rehab, that was a trip. At one point, he grabbed my camera from me. So I grabbed my other camera and I’m shooting him holding my camera. Then he started taking pictures of me with the camera, then he started running around shooting the crowd with the camera, so I have all of these photos he took as well with that roll. He was surprisingly laid back that day about photos, so I got a ton of material of him pool partying, dancing around, having a good time. He was in a good mood and was cool that day, so it was great. As a photographer in the business I was very happy, because those are probably my most successful photos of the year as far as media. They went everywhere.”


Drake

“That was at The Cosmopolitan for Kevin Hart’s HartBeat Weekend. Last year it was Kendrick Lamar, this year it was Drake. Kind of like the Gwen Stefani shot, I love when you can get a portrait style photo of an artist, that has that nice negative space around it and cool lighting. That one just stood out to me, I’ve always liked shooting Drake. I’ve probably shot him five or six times. It’s that portrait style concert photo, I love those. You kind of look twice at it. Those are always fun.”


New Found Glory

“This was at the Brooklyn Bowl. Again, it’s like Rise Against, when the artist gets in the pit and you get the energy of the artist interacting with the audience. That can be some of the most fun stuff. For a punk rock band, it works really well. This worked well in black and white to me too. It has some kind of a throwback quality, something like a CBGB’s feel, and I love that.”


The Killers

“At the Life is Beautiful festival, Brandon Flowers was playing his set and in the middle of the set they had a ‘technical breakdown,’ — staged — that led to the reveal of the Killers. It was a huge moment for Vegas, with the hometown heroes. To have them surprise everyone with that performance was a really big deal. Getting to shoot it as a photographer was a really big deal. I get to work with some artists that I just love to shoot, they are really cool. They just put on such a good show. Definitely a peak at Life Is Beautiful 2015 that I will always think back to.”


Donald Trump

“I shot the Republican debate recently at The Venetian. I cover politics, every four years I dig into it and cover the stump speeches and as many debates as I can get in. The people who love him love him and the people who don’t, don’t. He’s a very divisive person. It’s great to get photos of people like that and tell that story and tell a piece of the moment. That’s what I like about politics, it’s a breakaway from the music. The photos have a longevity to them. As a photographer, I see them come up years later for various things. Donald Trump is a fun guy to shoot, you get all of those crazy expressions and I try not to miss it.”


Noel Gallagher

“That was from the joint with the High Flying Birds. I’m a big Oasis fan, I really love the brothers together. But that show was so good. I enjoy most of the concerts I shoot, half of them I’m a fan. That was definitely one where I was a fan and a photographer. He’s just an awesome performer. I love that guitar, too. I’m kind of fascinated by guitars as much as the artists, sometimes. That’s a beautiful guitar.”


Public Enemy

“Public Enemy at The Joint at the Hard Rock this past year. I had shot them last at Vegoose years ago, so I was really psyched when they came to The Joint. Shooting Flavor Flav you know you’re going to get some awesome shots. I thought I’d bust out the fisheye lens, since I was really close to the stage. I popped it on and next thing you know he’s in my face with his finger at that camera (laughs). That’s Flavor, he’s just awesome.”


John Legend

“I’ve shot John a bunch of times this last year. This is from a very special show. It was One Night for One Drop by Cirque Du Soleil at The Mirage. It’s a performance that is totally unique that they only do that one night, from start to finish. John Legend was their guest performer for the event this year. I’ve seen him play a bunch of times this year and it’s all been these acoustic shows with just him at the piano, awesome stuff. I’ve become a fan of his because of shooting it.”


George Clinton

“His hair, his dreads, it’s all gone. He played with P-Funk at the Brooklyn Bowl this year and when he walked out, I didn’t know it was him. I was totally confused, it took me a minute or two and I was like ‘Oh My God, he’s got a whole new look!’ with the hat and the suit. He’s not short on expressions. It’s strange to see him without the hair, he’s unrecognizable. And of course, in this one, he’s making totally strange face, making it even more obscure.”


Stevie Wonder

“That’s Life is Beautiful, again. I haven’t had a lot of opportunities to photograph Stevie Wonder. I’m a fan of super-tight close-ups because they are the perspectives that people aren’t going to get on their cell phones in the front row. I can get in there and get the intensity of the moment. I just love this because you see the keyboard in the sunglasses. I thought that was cool. Somehow when I saw this expression, I just felt that his face was so iconic.”


Duran Duran

“That was the moment when Duran Duran came out on stage at Life Is Beautiful. They were my sister’s favorite band when I was a kid in the 80s. It was fun for me to photograph them, thinking of her seeing the photos, like ‘she’s going to be jealous’ (laughs). I was thinking how jealous she would be, but as I was shooting I was like ‘Wow, I like a lot of these songs.’ They are set in my brain, I know the words. It was a blast.”


Billy Idol

“It’s such the iconic Billy Idol snarl. That was from The Cosmopolitan; since then he’s announced a residency at the House of Blues. It was great to shoot him because he is so iconic and I had never shot him before. He kind of looks as cool as he’s ever looked. He just gets more interesting looking with age. You get that expression and that’s Billy Idol through and through. It was a really fun show.”


Kesha

“She’s fun to shoot. She comes out with green hair and has this elaborate stage set up, and this is at Rehab, not a big stage with production show. The glitter, the American Flag, the Rehab logo; all of the right elements came together here. I believe that was Memorial Day Weekend.”


Wiz Khalifa

“This was from Mandalay Bay when he performed with Fall Out Boy. I had shot Wiz when he performed at a lot of clubs. This was the first time I shot him in a full concert with big production. I thought that was cool that he was showing off the tattoos a little bit.”


Bernie Sanders

“That’s Bernie Sanders in the spin room at the Democratic debate at the Wynn. That was a really amazing thing. When he showed up after the debate, it was a madhouse. I can’t describe to you — in all of my years doing this, and with veteran political photographers I’ve had this conversation and we all agree — that the energy, the intensity and the amount of people trying to get interviews with him was just crazy. Everybody just piled on and I had to hold my camera up over my head to get some shots to show what was happening to document it. I slowly worked my way in there without being obnoxious like a lot of people were being, just knocking people down. I ended up getting some tighter shots of him, but these are the ones that I think tell the story better. He was the rock star of that debate, as far as I was concerned from the response he was getting.”


Father John Misty

“That’s from the Boulevard Pool at The Cosmopolitan. He’s kind of got this dazed, far-off look. That’s the thing I noticed when shooting him. He’s very expressive and just a good performer. He’s an interesting looking guy to begin with. Some artists just get up there and stand there and he’s one of those guys who performs. He lets all of those emotions come out and gets really into it. That really helps as a photographer when you’re trying to capture someone.”


Public Image Ltd

“Public Image Ltd played at Brooklyn Bowl recently. It’s a no-brainer to me. I’m a Sex Pistols fan. I’m not that familiar with PIL, but I have friends who are. They were really, really excited about this show. As a Sex Pistols fan, I was psyched. It was so cool that John Lydon walked out in a jailhouse or whatever kind of suit that is. I had looked at photos from the rest of the tour and usually he wore a suit, but he comes out in Vegas like this? Perfect.”


OK Go

“OK Go performs with this giant screen in front of them and they project onto it. I took this shot from up on the balcony. It’s just a weird photo because you can’t really tell what’s going on. It looks like I did some kind of Photoshop thing. It’s unusual. It looks like he’s in the middle of this tunnel. I had so many photos of OK Go that I liked because it was such an awesome visual show that it was hard to pick one.”


Mariah Carey

“This is from the opening night of her residency at The Colosseum. She’s natural and happy there. I think she looks fantastic. She’s a beautiful woman and looks amazing.”


Trey Anastasio Band

“This is Halloween at the Brooklyn Bowl. For the encore, they brought out Vegas showgirls. It was pretty awesome to have a guy from Phish on stage doing choreographed stage dancing with Vegas showgirls (laughs).”


B.B. King

“I ran a lot of B.B. King’s photos that we took the year before after he passed away. This is from the inaugural Big Blues Bender. This is one of his last public appearances. He did two or three appearances after this, so this was his last show in Vegas ever. After that, he fell ill and sadly he passed away in 2015. He was so awesome and just such an honor to capture. Such an iconic guy. I had shot him a few times over the years, it was just a great opportunity to get an 89-year-old man, who was out there on the road. He never stopped, he was out on the road almost every day of the year. If he wasn’t playing, he wasn’t happy. He said he was going to play until he died and that’s basically what he did. I love that shot, the smile, Lucille in his arms. That’s everything you need to know about B.B. King in that shot right there (laughs).”


Kerry Simon

“”Beloved celebrity chef Kerry Simon, known throughout the culinary universe as the Rock ‘n Roll Chef, passed away in 2015. Kerry was a personal friend and I loved the guy. He also loved rock photography more than anyone I’ve known and had a collection that included all of the greats. I shot this for a cover of a magazine as he was going through his struggles with MSA (Multiple System Atrophy). I just really wanted to capture him smiling. With what he was going through, it wasn’t always easy for him in these situations. It was a very tough battle fought. This photo just personally means a lot to me. It’s been a tough year, losing Kerry. I just wanted to pay tribute to him. Of all the photos in my entire gallery, that’s the most personal photo.”


If you enjoyed reading this, please click “Recommend” below to help to share the story with others.

Follow Cuepoint: Twitter | Facebook