Earlier this year, Chris Phillips of Zowie Bowie was roaming the recesses of the Colosseum at Caesars Palace before a Rod Stewart show.
No worries — he was allowed to be there. This was just before his girlfriend, violinist Lydia Ansel, was about to take the stage as part of Stewart’s band.
Phillips attends these shows from time to time to see Ansel perform. He usually just walks the backstage hallways trying to be incognito. But when your hair is styled in such a way to make you look like a Rod Stewart impressionist, going unnoticed at a Rod Stewart show is impossible.
“I actually ran into him one time,” Phillips said today during a phone conversation. “He saw me and said, ‘Who the hell might you be?’ ”
Today, Zowie Bowie is headlining at three resorts and on one street (Fremont, specifically, each Saturday) all across VegasVille.
One of those hotel-casino gigs is at Rocks Lounge in Red Rock Resort each Friday night, the high-energy Z.B. dance show. Another showcase is every Thursday night at Windows at Bally’s, where Phillips blends his “vintage Vegas” show band set with some of the contemporary dance music he’s performed at Red Rock. The third, and latest, resort opportunity awaits Zowie Bowie at Heraea at the Palms. This is the hybrid sports bar/restaurant/nightclub operated in a partnership between the Palms and the One Group.
The strategy at Heraea has been to focus on showcasing sporting events on an assortment of big screens behind the bar, provide a menu more imaginative than a list of chicken fingers and hire a DJ to play dance music late at night. Oh, and all of this is designed to appeal primarily to women.
But even as One Group chief Jonathan Segal has said business at Heraea is “getting better,” the pub/club has found a difficult time drawing a crowd when big sporting events are not being broadcast. With no dedicated crowd, it’s similarly challenging to keep anyone around as the restaurant morphs into a nightclub.
That’s when Phillips was summoned to perform what he deems “an elaborate soundcheck” at 9 p.m. Saturday. That time is a little early to start a Vegas nightclub show, which is what Zowie Bowie is bringing to Heraea.
“They built this place as a big, beautiful sports club and restaurant and thought they could make it a nightclub at night, but there’s no production — no lights, no sound — nothing but four walls,” Phillips said. “There’s never anybody in there unless there is a sporting event going on, so they came to me and asked if I could do a night. … It would take some major surgery to make it a nightclub.”
Phillips initially suggested performing from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. Problem is, the club shuts down at 11:30 p.m.
“We have to turn this into an early nightclub, for people who don’t want to go out late,” Phillips said. “It’s between the dayclub and the traditional nightclub crowd.”
If Saturday’s test run goes well, Phillips could well be sitting on a six-month stint at Heraea, which would be backed by a strong marketing campaign from One Group and the hotel.
Meantime, over at Bally’s, Zowie Bowie has returned with an Old Vegas show that surfaced a few months ago. The difference for these 10:30 p.m. (make that 11 p.m.) shows is the blend of genres. The rhythm section from the Red Rock shows performs the Top 40 set list. The six-piece horn section is from Lon Bronson’s All-Star Band — featuring Bronson himself on trumpet — plays the vintage selections. Last week, Philllips was joined by Vince Neil (a familiar guest singer at these events), Travis Cloer of “Jersey Boys” and twin tappers Sean & John from “Vegas! the Show.”
That show drew a comp-heavy crowd of about 300. This week, the hotel and producer Andrew Van Slee (who also backs “Tony N’ Tina’s Wedding”) are focusing on an audience paying $39.99 a shot to see this show. That’s the highest ticket price ever to experience Zowie Bowie, typically a free act since arriving in Vegas in 2006. The only other ticketed show for Z.B. was the brief “Vintage Vegas” run four years ago at Monte Carlo.
“It’s a new thing for us, a real party with some really great talent onstage,” Phillips said, adding with characteristic aplomb, “aside from me, of course.”
Phillips is to be joined by the Strip’s favorite roving production-show star Mark Shunock of “Rock of Ages” (ask him about how he met the Stanley Cup this week, eh?), Laugh Factory comic magician Murray Sawchuck and the Bella Strings violin ensemble (of which Ansel is a member). Down the road, expect downtown headliners Gordie Brown (Golden Nugget) and Frankie Scinta (“The Scintas” at the D Hotel) to join the fray.
Phillips has four weeks to feel out the Windows shows before the hotel and producer determine if this show is long-running or another in a long line of short-term Zowie Bowie residencies. Phillips is always looking around for new venues, places that seem fascinating for his styles of entertainment. He loves the Saturday night Fremont Street shows, and it would not be surprising to see that turn into a regular “thing,” too.
“We have 1,000 people show up to those shows, many of them tourists, and we haven’t played much to a tourist crowd before,” Phillips said. “We have this huge crowd in front of the D hotel, and Derek Stevens (president of that hotel) likes that we send everyone into the D. It might be that it would be Zowie Bowie, presented by the D, or something like that.”
Whatever the case, Phillips is up for the challenge. Aside from impersonating Rod Stewart, he is game for anything.