Make a Joyful, Funky Noise: An Evening with Silk Sonic in Las Vegas
By Elizabeth Gracen:
First of all, I can’t believe I’m writing another article about a Las Vegas show. I’ve never been a huge fan of Sin City, and over the years have never intentionally made my way there to specifically attend a concert or special event. I did get married there a long time ago, but that's a whole other story. However, since the lockdown lifted and the world started moving again, I’ve found myself making the drive twice in a little over a month’s time—with an upcoming trip in June for another one of my kid’s volleyball tournaments.
A SCVA volleyball tournament in Vegas is quite the gauntlet. Thousands of players, coaches, and parents milling about like fish in a crowded stream through the slim corridor that leads from the Mandalay Bay to the convention auditorium. After a couple years of social distancing, the shock of proximity and unmasked people (not me) was somewhat overwhelming. The noise, crowd, and that Vegas twilight that tempts you to never seek fresh air and sunshine can leave you feeling as if the blood has been drained from your body. So, after the first tournament—when I realized that we would be attending not one but two tournaments before mid-summer—I knew I had to adjust my approach.
The first and easiest adjustment was booking a room in the adjoining Delano Hotel as opposed to the Mandalay. The Delano offers a much quieter, peaceful atmosphere, with lilac-scented corridors and that “you must be in Miami” vibe. It was a game changer, and once I figured out all the short cuts to avoid the casino and take the outdoor pathway to the tournament, I was able to avoid the soul-crushing experience of my first visit.
But that’s not why I’m writing this article.
When I realized that I would be at a volleyball tournament for my birthday in April, I started scheming . . . , and it didn’t take me long to figure out the perfect birthday present for moi: "An Evening with Silk Sonic" at the Park MGM Dolby Live venue!
If you watched the 2021 Grammys, you got a first taste of the powerhouse duo of Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak, aka Silk Sonic, as they went live with “Leave the Door Open” on the broadcast. The pumped-up 70s throw-back/homage to the era’s smooth moves and velvety vocals proclaimed a fresh take on a joyful retro vibe. Charming, slick, and masterful. It was hard to resist because they looked like they were having so much fun.
Over the next year, Silk Sonic “drip dripped” out their new songs, each one playful, soulful, and expertly executed.
With a promise of a new album on the horizon, virtuoso performer Bruno Mars simply smiled and told reporters that they were in no rush to release the whole album. The songs had to be right and tight. The duo proclaimed that "An Evening with Silk Sonic" would have no other purpose than to entertain, to make people want to get up and dance and enjoy themselves after the dark times we've all been going through.
In general, both professional music critics and anyone with access to the myriad online platforms that publish reviews have voiced their opinions on this album, both positive and negative. I've heard comments from people as random as the erudite cab driver who took me from the Delano to the Dolby Live theatre that night to see the show. He simply didn't "get" what Silk Sonic was up to. Their talent and master musician status was undeniable, but what the hell were they really doing? Was it supposed to be a joke? Were we supposed to laugh and not take the music seriously? Another one of my friends proclaimed a reticence to the "slickness" of their performance and the groovy tunes as being too "fixed."
When I hear Silk Sonic and see their videos, I see the spit-shined pastiche of Silk Sonic as performance art—a sly but respectful nod to all the best parts of 70s soul and funk distilled into a carefully choreographed masterpiece that hits the post-pandemic spot right where we need it.
It's just fun to listen and dance to, and there is nothing we need more right now. These cats are playing court jesters because they know it's just what the funk doctor ordered.
Being a loner by nature, I have always enjoyed attending films, museums, lectures, and going to performances solo. The company of friends is always a plus, but if it is not easily organized, I am always ready to venture out on my own. When the young woman at the Dolby door scanned my ticket app, she flashed some sad eyes at me, pouted her lower lip, and said, "Sugar, are you all alone tonight?" I said, "It's my birthday, girl. I have a date with Silk Sonic tonight!" She smiled and shouted, "Well, happy birthday to you! Go get you some fun!" before handing me my own personal Yondr to lock my cellphone away before the performance.
“Silk Sonic will be a phone-free experience. Use of cellphones, smart watches, smart accessories, cameras or recording devices will not be permitted in the performance space.
Upon arrival at the venue, all devices will be secured in YONDR pouches. Guests maintain possession of their phones and can access their phones during the show at designated Phone Use Areas in the venue. All phones will be re-secured in YONDR pouches before returning to the performance space. Anyone seen using a cellphone during the performance will be escorted out of the venue. We appreciate your cooperation in creating a phone-free viewing experience.”
I had read about the "no phone" policy ahead of time, but it was the first time I had ever been given a Yondr. It was slim and simple and easy to unlock once the performance was over. No one complained, but there were more than a few surprised faces when they suddenly realized they would have to enjoy the evening the old-fashioned way without constantly checking their device. It was glorious.
Classic Funk music slipped in and around the lobby and stairwells. Shoulders jumped to the music as every shape, size, color, and age-appropriate adult milled around before the show. Once again, few masks, but I kept mine on as I made my way to the bar for a glass of something bubbly that was way too expensive for what it was worth, but once again . . . birthday. The Silk Sonic swag was not to my liking, and I had no desire to stand in line for a photo in front of large poster, so I people watched, slipping my mask off for sips before making my way to the balcony entrance.
Maybe it's just Vegas, but even the ushers—in my case two gentleman in their early 70s—presented as performers. One of them entertained his crowd section with very bad jokes, but no one seemed to mind the clinkers coming out of his mouth. It was the night before the 2022 Grammy telecast that would air live from Vegas, so everyone around me craned their necks in search of celebrities—which would be impossible to see from our heights. Our usher guaranteed us the celebs were backstage or in the front rows somewhere below the giant disco ball suspended over the audience. We endured a few more jokes before the house lights finally dimmed and the opening guitar riff of "777" blasted out as the curtain raised. Time to get up on my feet!
Thank goodness I wore my red kitten heels, because I sat down only twice that night, and that was only for slow songs. Everyone stayed on their feet, moving, singing, screaming. The band was a well-oiled funk machine, with choreographed moves for every song. It looked effortless, but if the rumors of Bruno Mar's perfectionism are true, they worked those moves til it lived in their bones. With liquid glides across the stage, Bruno Mars did his best Bruno Mars—a consummate showman on guitar, percussion, drums, and, of course, his always-amazing vocals. Anderson .Paak astounded whether at the drums, dancing, or singing along with the smooth backup vocalists.
Besides .Paak's hysterical page-boy wig (which he took full advantage of by flipping it from side to side whenever the need presented itself), the foolishness started right after the opening number, with both stars gleefully poking fun at us with a perfectly harmonized, "We Took Your Phones Away" number that guaranteed that whatever happened in Vegas on that stage would stay in Vegas.
The show was big and showy—old-style Las Vegas with smoke, fireworks, and psychedelic visuals once they hit on "Can You Take Me Higher," with a strange, trippy intro of "Pure Imagination" from Willy Wonka by lead guitarist Mateus Asato. Like I said, performance art.
With a dip into their past individual hits—Mars's "That's What I Like" and .Paak's "Come Down"—the show ran smooth as silk, covering every album track until the encore took us right back to where it all began with "Leave the Door Open," the audience singing along at the top of their lungs.
It was so much fun.
Mission accomplished, Silk Sonic.
Happy birthday to me.