A couple of months ago, I wrote about how I’m kind of sick of Las Vegas because I’ve spent too much time there over the past 15 years. One thing about Las Vegas that I’m not sick of, though, is its excellent variety of top-shelf shows. I’ve traveled around the world and when it comes to evening entertainment, nothing beats Las Vegas (okay, I suppose Broadway comes close). I believe experiencing a Las Vegas show can be an ideal way for a solo visitor to spend an evening. You might not feel comfortable going to a club or bar by yourself, but if you can go to the movies alone, you can go to a show alone.
On my trip last May, I decided to take advantage of the nighttime entertainment options in Vegas by seeing not one, not two, but three shows in one week.That’s the most I’ve ever done before, and I’m not the least bit sorry. All three were excellent, and they all offered very different experiences from each other, from the big, acrobatic production number of the Beatles’ LOVE (by Cirque du Soleil) at the Mirage to concerts by Billy Idol at the House of Blues and Lionel Richie at Planet Hollywood. I suppose if you really want to look for a common theme running through them, you might say all three represent the “music of my life.”
Note: All three of these shows offered theater-style seating, which is more comfortable for me as a solo. That’s something you might consider as you’re choosing which Vegas shows to see. Now, without further rambling, my show reviews:
LOVE at the Mirage
There was essentially no line when I picked up my ticket for LOVE at the ticket booth. I grabbed dinner at California Pizza Kitchen before the show, and then entered about 35 minutes before show time. This is not a huge theater, and it doesn’t take more than a minute or two to find your seat. So there’s absolutely no need to arrive that early (and I wound up regretting it, because I have a bladder the size of a golf ball and had to get up to use the bathroom near the end of the show).
My seat was in the very back row on the second level in an aisle seat–and by “aisle seat,” I mean, my seat was not beside the aisle, it literally straddled the aisle. This felt a little weird, to be honest. But I had a great view of the stage and all the action in the theater, so I was happy with it.
The show itself is fantastic. I never saw it before the recent changes they made, so I have nothing to compare it to except all the other Cirque shows I’ve seen. I still liked Michael Jackson ONE better, but I’d say it’s probably my second favorite after that. The Beatles were a bit before my time, but I was still a big fan growing up and in fact, had an album of their greatest hits. Many of those songs get play in this show.
What I really love about what Cirque is doing with shows like Michael Jackson ONE and the Beatles LOVE is turning them into multimedia spectacles, not just acrobatics set to music. This show reflects the rise of the Beatles in the ’50s, then the “psychedelic ’60s.” They make great use of clips of the Beatles’ voices and projections of light, shadows, and imagery. They drive cars and a van onto the stage, there are aerial acrobatics, tumblers, you name it.
At one point they used a parachute material that covered the entire stage and much of the audience up through level 2. They rippled it (the way we used to do in elementary school during physical education) and projected swirls of light so it looked like the ocean, and there was a boat (a real one) that seemed to be on rough seas. For those of us in the upper levels, the effect was amazing. I have no idea what the people covered by the parachute material saw, if anything.
Mostly, though, you get the sense that every image they use resonates perfectly with the Beatles’ music–including a soldier who made me think of Sergeant Pepper (and yes, they do use that song). For “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” they have a dark sky and tons of twinkling lights as a backdrop for the aerial acrobats. For “Octopus’s Garden,” they again turned to aerial acrobats, this time costumed to appear as if they were swimming octopi. It was freaky and wonderful at the same time.
I can’t remember the entire play list for the show, but if you’re a Beatles fan, you’ll recognize most if not all of the songs played. I got my ticket for this show via myVEGAS, but it was selling for $86 online when I looked. I would happily pay that price to go see it again. It’s one of those shows you could definitely see more than once.
Billy Idol at the House of Blues, Mandalay Bay
This concert started at 8pm, but by 6pm, the general admission crowd was already lining up. I went off to eat dinner at the buffet and when I came back around 7pm, the line was much, much longer. I wasn’t worried, since I had booked my seat. But I decided to go ahead and get in line around 7:15.
The line moved sloooooowly. Finally, I made it up to the security guys and this is when I realized I’d completely screwed up by having an unopened bottle of water in my bag. I always carry water on me in case I get dehydrated (this is the desert, after all). They made me throw it away. So as soon as I got inside, I had to buy another (overpriced) bottle of water. I hate wasting money and resources. When you think about all the people in the world who don’t have access to clean drinking water, it really galls me to have to throw away perfectly good water.
Speaking of the overpriced drinks at the House of Blues concert hall: It cost $5 for a bottle of water and $14 for a can of beer (I think it was 20 ounces, but still). Unbelievable. I had thought it might be nice to get a drink to enjoy during the concert….until I saw the prices. Instead, I decided they were only getting $5 for water plus a tip for the bartender out of me. “Screw the Man!” (fist pump)
(Come on, if you go to a Billy Idol concert, you’ve got to start practicing your punk attitude.)
Drink prices aside, I really liked this music venue. It’s intimate enough that you can see the stage pretty well from wherever you are (sitting upstairs or downstairs or standing in general admission). Yet there’s room for a lot of people. I had a seat on Level 2 in the balcony (cost: $112). The balconies are at a steep pitch, which makes you feel like you’re really close to the stage. Even up there, I could see Billy Idol just fine, including facial expressions (though you wouldn’t know it from my crappy photos).
The seats were very comfortable and had cup holders for those overpriced drinks. There are also some seriously beautiful architectural touches in this concert hall, such as ornate backlit windows and chandeliers. There are two small bars on the second level (one on each side), and of course, bars on the main floor. The main floor has some table seating as well as the standing general admission area in front of the stage.
Even though it was more expensive, I booked a seat upstairs because frankly, I didn’t want to stand for 2-3 hours. After seeing how early the general admission peeps had to start queuing, I think that’s another good reason to upgrade to a seat. I don’t need to be right in front of the stage to enjoy a concert. Your mileage may vary, of course.
I liked the people on my left in my row. They were friendly to me, and so even though I was there solo, I didn’t feel like I was alone, if that makes sense. I felt a sense of conspiracy when one woman got so annoyed by the young couple a few rows in front of us standing throughout the concert and blocking our view of the stage (the only people in our section who were doing so) that she started dipping her fingers in her beer and flicking it at their backs until they finally got the hint and sat down. I caught her eye and gave her a thumbs up.
Everyone in my row was all around the same age, I’d guess–40s and 50s. The people on my right were friendly and nice enough, too….but then they made me really uncomfortable later on during the concert when they started making out like teenagers. (For future reference, I really do not want to be sitting next to your overt PDA. Thanks.)
The concert itself was terrific, though very loud. I was kind of wishing I’d brought a pair of earplugs. My ears were ringing all the way back to my hotel. The only glitch was mechanical: The sound kept cutting out at times throughout the concert, which seemed like a problem of the venue, but may have been their equipment, I’m not sure which. In any case, it can’t be fun to be up on stage when that happens. It wasn’t enough to ruin the concert for me, but it was a minor annoyance.
At 60, Billy’s still got a great voice and puts on a high-energy, upbeat show, singing all his biggest hits (“White Wedding,” “Eyes Without a Face,” “Rebel Yell,” “Mony, Mony,” etc.) and many I’d never heard before–but they were all good. He is still rocking some great abs–he took off his shirt several times during the show. I didn’t see an ounce of fat on him. (I wonder if I could hire him to be my personal trainer?) Billy has a lead guitarist named Steve Stevens who is ridiculously talented; Stevens took the stage solo almost as much as Billy did, and the spotlight was well-deserved.
When the concert was over, it became immediately clear what this venue’s biggest drawback is: There is only one exit, and it’s a narrow staircase, so the crowd was slow to empty out of the balconies. If there were ever (God forbid) some tragic occurrence in that concert hall, there would be a trampling situation, and many people would not get out. Period. It’s just that bad. They really need to do something about that.
That said, I do recommend the venue, as well as Billy Idol’s concert. If you have the opportunity to see it, DO IT. I’ll certainly be open to seeing other concerts in this venue in the future as well, drink prices be damned.
Lionel Richie at the Axis Theater, Planet Hollywood
This was my first show at The Axis, which is accessible via the Miracle Mile Shops (and out what I would call the Planet Hollywood casino’s “backdoor” to the shops). Axis is a very large theater, but I never felt like I was miles away from the stage, the way I have at Caesars Forum Shops or the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Once you get through security and the main entrance, there’s a “lobby” of sorts inside where there are restrooms and multiple bars where you can buy drinks before or during the show.
The first thing I noticed about the crowd attending the Lionel Richie concert is that most people were far more dressed up than usual for a Las Vegas show. I saw very few people wearing jeans and no one wearing shorts (and it was very hot outside). I was dressed business casual, and even I felt a little underdressed.
During the concert, I quickly realized why: This is a “date night” or “special night out on the town for girlfriends” kind of concert, not a “I just have some time to kill and thought this might be fun” kind of concert. As is typical with major concerts nowadays, there are big screens on stage projecting Lionel, the musicians, and the audience at various times. Most of the shots of the audience were of couples holding hands, with their arms around each other, stealing a kiss, etc.
In other words, I started to feel a little out of place as a solo. Luckily, there was a solo guy sitting in front of me (one of the underdressed few) and a senior father and his two adult daughters sitting to my right, so I was able to keep reminding myself that I wasn’t the only uncoupled person there. Whew.
But if you’re familiar with Lionel Richie’s almost 50-year body of work (with the Commodores and as a solo artist), you can see how this might happen. So. Many. Love. Ballads. Of course, they’re all great songs, and he still has a lovely voice. He’s also a terrific showman. I had no idea he could be so funny. He knows how to work the crowd.
Name a Lionel Richie song that ever hit the top 40 and I’m sure he sang it. “Lady,” “All Night Long,” “Three Times a Lady,” “Easy,” “Celebration,” “Hello,” “Dancing on the Ceiling,” “Say You, Say Me,” etc. Yes, he even sang the Commodores’ “Brick House.” I’m embarrassed to admit that it’s probably been two decades since I gave any thought to Lionel Richie’s music at all (sorry, man), but once he started singing song after song after song that I knew and remembered (and loved at the time), I realized what an enormous catalog of hits he’s had. My God, it’s impressive. Just thinking about it makes me want to run right out and buy them all.
The only criticism I have about this show is that it started 30 minutes late, with no explanation. Given what a great show it was, though, I can forgive that.
In short, this is another great show that I highly recommend. It’s totally worth the ticket price (I opted for a price in the lower-middle range, $105, with a seat about 1/3 in from the back, but if you’re there on Date Night, you might want to spring for the pricier seats). I’d also recommend the venue. I’d definitely go see another concert at the Axis Theater. It’s easy to get to, very comfortable, and the view and acoustics were just fine.
To wrap up, there’s no doubt that these three shows were among the highlights of my last trip to Las Vegas. Given that I’m not much of a drinker or gambler, seeing a show at night is a great way to fill my time in an enjoyable way. I guarantee you that the next time you hear me say I’m going back to Las Vegas, it will be because there’s a show or two that I want to see.
Postscript: Thank you from the bottom of my heart to those of you who supported me and my team in the Walk to End Alzheimers in September. I’ve updated that post, in case you’re curious about how it went.