Matt Goss and Zowie Bowie are trying to reinvent and revive lounge for Las Vegas, Goss at the Palms and Zowie Bowie at the Monte Carlo.
Neither is a total pioneer. Lounge is always being reinvented in Vegas, and it has never totally gone away. But recently, the Vegas lounge has simply been replaced by the nightclub; instead of heading to the lounge for a drink with friends, the young and hip schmooze and dance until 2 a.m. at Pure, LAX and Tao. That leaves many lounges for hookers seeking clients and old folks sitting around, singing along to generic covers of songs like “Born in the U.S.A.” and “My Sharona.” Goss and Zowie Bowie think that should change.
To Goss, lounge really means Rat Pack-era Vegas, specifically Sinatra’s style. The former British boy-band singer seems determined to be a man; he enters with some Tom Jones swagger and his hat perfectly cocked, and his show is heavily choreographed, with four dancers and two background singers (who function more as dancers, too, doing very little singing).
Goss hits Vegas classics like “Luck Be a Lady,” but he also offers a slightly modern focus, pulling off an extended version of “Let It Be” that sounds fresh, thanks to a little ska. He also offers “Hotel California,” introducing it as by one of the greatest American songwriters of all time. He wants us to guess the author’s name; impossible, because the song actually has three: Don Henley, Don Felder and Glenn Frey. With influences like that, it is no surprise that Goss’ weakest moments are his original songs, particularly the ballads, which bring things to a grinding halt, sending some people straight out the door. It’s not that they’re awful—just average. Lounge shows are about energy, and unknown, slow-tempo weepers have a hard time fitting into the program.
People leaving early underscore another problem faced by Goss, who offers a ticketed show (traditional lounge is free). Despite production-show elements—dancers, choreographed entrances and lighting—this is basically 90 minutes of plot-free music. Some folks might enjoy it for an hour, some for less and some for the entire show. But if you walk out of Jersey Boys, odds are you did not enjoy what you were seeing. Lounge is different. People come for some entertainment and leave when they’re ready. There’s no obligation to stay for the entire show, though many do. So when someone was done enjoying, say, Louis Prima back in the day, they could play slots and let other people have their chairs. But when there is a cover, as there is for Goss, what can you charge for just the last part? When people left Goss’ show, their table sat empty for the rest of the night.
Finally, like Goss’ too-tight suit, his take on lounge is constrained by the effort to be contemporary: the dancers in lingerie and all the choreography. Lounge at its best has always allowed for a lot of spontaneity and often hilarious and unanticipated interchanges between audience and performer. Goss has his show, and the audience sits back and watches it. That is hardly the lounge experience. Rather, it’s a production show in the Palms’ lounge, renamed the Gossy Room.
Goss is a talented singer, but his show could be vastly improved by embracing lounge rather than trying to save it. Toss open the bar curtains, invite the public in for free and sell them lots of cheap drinks. And, most importantly, keep the tempo up. That is the spirit of lounge performance—at its best the single most down-to-earth art.
No one will accuse Zowie Bowie’s Vintage Vegas show—another ticketed “lounge” experience—of trying to be too hip for the room. Irony is not their style. Zowie Bowie’s look is as over-the-top as casino carpets. The duo is shameless, old-school Vegas cheese, but, if anything, lacks enough humor about that. Rather than just put those outfits, jewelry and tan onstage, they ought to flaunt the uncoolness of it all. Watching them perform, you only wish they would wink a little to the audience, push the schmaltz to the next level and focus on their obvious unnaturalness: cosmetic enhancements, whitened teeth, dramatic stage poses. Instead, the audience gets stale relationship jokes about the extended engagement of the two performers, Chris Phillips and Marley Taylor. When you look like you were created in a laboratory for the Vegas stage, that is more interesting than if there is a ring offstage.
As at Goss’ show, the lack of a significantly interactive audience in the showroom of Zowie Bowie’s Lance Burton Theater seems to suck a lot of energy from the performance. Where Goss has put a production show in a lounge and lost what is special about lounge, Zowie Bowie has put a lounge show on a production-show stage—and also missed the magic.
Yet both shows are moving in the right direction. Vegas needs to rediscover the value of lounge as entertainment, and Goss and Zowie Bowie both had people waiting in line to get inside. Different as their paths to their goals might be, the two shows have the same problem: Lounge does not need reinvention; it needs to be restored.
What people like about lounge is atmosphere, which matters almost as much as the performers. Sacrificing that vibe by offering a ticketed show takes away that aesthetic in a way neither Goss nor Zowie Bowie can recapture. But they are onto something, if only casinos would agree to revive lounge—toss open the room, fully embrace what made lounge so popular originally. Lounge works as a loss-leader, free entertainment and gathering center. That’s what made it so popular. And that is the real vintage Vegas.