Even before Shaquille O’Neal began his performance as DJ Diesel on Thursday night at Mémoire, the new nightclub at Encore Boston Harbor, the NBA legend made his presence known.
Around 11:15 p.m., a large cheer emanated from the second-floor poker tables as Shaq walked through, waving and cracking smiles with his sizable entourage. The Big Aristotle (or Big Shamrock, as he goes by in Boston) may have only played one season for the Celtics, but the gamblers treated him like a local lifer.
“I thought it was Antoine Walker,” said one seated at a nearby table, briefly confusing O’Neal for the former Celtics power forward.
Meanwhile, downstairs at the casino floor’s main bar, Bruins players Charlie McAvoy and Sean Kuraly were able to order drinks in comparatively incognito fashion, a fringe benefit of not being 7-foot-1 and rolling with a crew of 15.
Inside the 600-person-capacity Mémoire, O’Neal decided to hang out in the VIP area next to the performance stand for a full hour before his set began. Most artists spend time before a show relaxing backstage, but O’Neal was a man of the people, making sure to do multiple laps around the edge of the roped-off space to pose for photos with many of the fans in attendance.
Shortly after O’Neal started his set at 12:30 a.m., however, he was ready for the photos to stop and the crowd to focus.
“Put those [expletive] cameras down,” O’Neal, clad in a black tank top, growled into the mic. “We’re here to party.”
While clubgoers never really stopped taking photos and videos, they certainly obliged O’Neal’s request to party. The big man threw down a bass-heavy dubstep set, and made liberal use of Mémoire’s laser light system, 450-inch LED wall, and overhead fog cannons.
Along with ear-shattering club bangers, O’Neal would occasionally mix in a portion of an incongruous song for the crowd to sing along to, like Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles” or The Killers’ “Mr. Brightside,” before dropping the bass. The crowd even broke into a few impromptu mosh pits, though Mémoire staff made sure things never got out of hand.
The enduring image of the evening was the moment O’Neal lifted a cardboard cutout of himself over his head, waving it in rhythm to the music. Grabbing the mic once more, he delivered a message that had been clear since the moment he arrived: “Big Shamrock is back.”
Kevin Slane can be reached at email@example.com