Monday, Aug. 19, 2019 | 2 a.m.
Back in the ’70s, ‘80s and ’90s, if you said you were going to see a “Vegas show,” that could mean anything from magicians to dancing girls, celebrity headliners to Cirque du Soleil spectaculars. If you buy a ticket to a big Vegas show these days, there’s a good chance it’s actually a concert, maybe a massive stage production starring Lady Gaga or Rod Stewart or Def Leppard.
Music has frequently been at the core of the Vegas show experience, no matter the star. But even today’s non-concert productions rely on a great soundtrack more than it might appear. To prove the point, let’s revisit a favorite Strip show and review it as a rock concert. Ready?
The opening scene of the Blue Man Group’s show at Luxor has the famous trio of silent characters producing sounds and making music by rotating tubes and banging on plastic pipes. It’s a familiar sight and the noise coming from the stage isn’t shocking to anyone in the audience, but this time we’re taking notice of what it actually sounds like. It’s a bit like the punky, poppy new wave songs of the late ’70s and early ‘80s, like an experimental track David Byrne could have put together.
A few minutes later, when the Blue Men are getting big laughs splattering paint all over canvases and themselves, a hard-charging rock anthem that could have scored an action scene from a 1990s flick in raising the energy level in the room. One thing you may have missed if you’ve seen BMG before is the fact that many of the sound effects in the show are actually live musical performance. The quirky, percussive sounds and guitar slides that layer cartoonish effects atop the onstage action are coming from the four agile musicians perched in the corners above. Their music and machine-like beats are driving the show, not quite controlling the Blue Men but something close to it.
It’s easy to describe the show’s soundtrack as tribal and rhythmic but there are plenty of varied genres represented throughout the fast-moving presentation. There’s a little surf-rock cresting when it seems like a water balloon might be sent into the crowd via slingshot; there’s a whole lot of spacey, psychedelic rock providing a foundation for the main characters’ colorful discovery of their instruments and their audience.
In the second half of the show, when some good-natured exploration pokes some fun at our reliance on technology, the music dips into electronica. At first, the band takes its cues from the experimental sounds from more PVC pipes, which beep and blip until electronic instrumentation kicks in and takes control. When the Blue Men join the band above the stage for a stunning light show, they’re also using huge ceiling-mounted chimes, juxtaposing ancient instruments against soaring, EDM-style synth lines. It’s pretty awesome, even without the light show.
The show’s incredible improvised and customized instruments, including insect-like drum kits, pipes that bellow when filled with smoke and bass drums that actually propel smoke rings with each massive beat, sound as good as they look. And when the show closes with a tissue-paper disco rave-up, it only reinforces what we’ve learned with this focused experience. What’s the lesson? If you close your eyes during the Blue Man Group, it’s still an impressive experience. If you could close your ears, not so much. This show wouldn’t be anywhere near as fun or as funny without its unique and exciting musical backdrop.
Blue Man Group is performed at 7 and 9:30 p.m. nightly at the Atrium Level theater at Luxor (3900 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 702-262-4400) and more info can be found at luxor.com.