Let’s zoom in on the scene: Las Vegas. The Strip. The Cosmopolitan hotel. The Boulevard Pool. Palm-tree lined, rooftop, open-air — by day actually a luxury resort hotel swimming pool — this is the venue where Stromae would perform, with unobstructed views of The Strip in three directions. Luxurious, tropical. The Cosmopolitan rises up from a casino on the first floor, through an open three-story lobby with shopping, dining, and the famous multistory Chandelier Bar at the center of it all. Glamorous? Undeniably.
Now add a Belgian musician who’s known for his down-to-earth humility. Who says of his content, “It’s pretty deep and not really happy. It’s not meant to make you sad, but it’s serious. I don’t want to talk about champagne, vodka, naked women, even if it’s a part of our life. For me it’s more interesting to talk about serious issues.” Yes, this musician’s written more than a few lines criticizing the kind of consumer society that is slapping us in the face here in Las Vegas. Put a photo of his profile on the Cosmopolitan’s three-story electronic marquee. Incongruous? Um, definitely. But Stromae can take these kinds of contradictions, twist them around a microphone stand, and come out triumphant.
In town for my fourth Stromae show, my husband and I approached The Cosmopolitan and walked up under that immense marquee. When it brought up the image of Stromae’s profile, the effect was no less than staggering. We could see the tops of the palm trees up there on the fourth-floor rooftop where the concert would take place, but that was all. About five hours before the doors were to open, we were getting the lay of the land, trying to figure out where the entrance to the venue was. After navigating a maze of escalators and elevators, we found it on the third floor inside the hotel. As we crossed the floor, we walked past Stromae’s musicians Florian Rossi and Manoli Avgoustinatos. I smiled, said “bonjour,” and walked on, and then immediately realized I didn’t want to miss this opportunity. These two are an indispensable part of Stromae’s performances, and I admire their work immensely. Besides, I was wearing a green Racine Carrée cardigan, so it was obvious why I was there. Backtracking, I asked Manoli for a photo in French and he and Florian readily obliged. I managed to thank them for the photo (I think), ask if they had a little time in Vegas, and end up lamely with “Profitez!” (Enjoy!) I was grateful for the chance to wish them an enjoyable stay, at least, but I wish I’d thanked them for their work as well.
As the line began to form, I met up with friends, some I’d previously met only online. Steeve and Marcelo were there from Switzerland, and Victoria from Las Vegas. I was excited to catch up with Cathy, who I’d met at the Denver show last year, and for whom Las Vegas would be the 25th Stromae show she’d attended. Chatting with these fellow admirers of Stromae, the hours passed quickly. Plus, the carpeted hallway was one of the more cushy spots to queue up for a show.
At this venue, there was a separate line for concertgoers with an “early access” pass. For those with the pass, the doors opened 10 minutes earlier than for general admission. Thanks to our passes, my husband was the first one through the metal detector and up the stairs, and I was right behind him. It took a second at the top of the stairs to take it all in. There’s the pool, where’s the stage, where do we stand? The stage was a high one, about 7 feet off the ground, and open on all sides. Two speakers rested on a platform at about chest height just on the other side of the barrier. We heard later that the view was great from back by the pool, but up in the front row we were craning our necks to see the stage, and only the top half of the square-root stage lights were visible.
The Cosmopolitan co-presented the show with the University of Nevada Las Vegas, and there were many UNLV students at the show. I also met several other concertgoers who had seen Stromae in Salt Lake City last year and traveled to see him for a second time here.
During Freedom Fry’s opening set, Stromae’s sound engineer took pictures of the scene from the side of the stage, capturing the view of the Bellagio hotel and casino in the background as well as the Paris Las Vegas with its model of the Eiffel Tower. He was keeping a low profile, but Stromae’s silhouette was also visible just offstage for a couple of minutes. Was he taking pictures too? It seemed a little bizarre that he and his team had left francophone Europe only to find themselves playing under another Eiffel Tower in the USA.
After Freedom Fry wrapped up their set, Stromae fans Steeve and Marcelo, who’d traveled all the way from Switzerland just to see Stromae perform in America, led the audience in a chorus of “Ta Fête” to welcome Stromae.
Since the stage was completely open, there was no screen for the animation Stromae considers just as important as another musician or character onstage with him. The lights also had to be different for this show, and the lighting designer took some time warming up and practicing with them. As if to make up for these differences, that huge marquee set to Stromae’s image and stayed there for the duration of the show.
Because there was no screen, and even darkness wasn’t possible with the city lights all around, Stromae just strolled out and started off with “Ta Fête.” If he missed the animation, it didn’t show. He played the pared-down stage as masterfully as ever. I appreciate the screen when it’s there, with its lights and animated “soldiers,” but this time it was refreshing not to have the distraction of looking back and forth between them, the musicians, and Stromae. At recent shows, Stromae repeats a line during his onstage “Leçon 26″: “Stay focused,” he commands the audience, as if their attention could ever wander. For this show, without the screen, it was even easier to stay focused on the performer in front of me. This man doesn’t just hold the performance bar higher than other performers — he absolutely smashes it.
Here are a couple of mini-videos from the show shared by @yellowsubmaureen. These were the biggest arm-swoops I’d seen yet for “Moules Frites.”
Stromae shows follow a pattern — always the same set list, the same basic choreography, the same jokes — but they’re never completely predictable. He’ll sing an unexpected harmony, the musicians might add an extra keyboard flourish, he might make a new joke. This time, after his usual line in “Leçon 26″ about how music without a “boom boom” is like Venice without a gondola, he ad-libbed with perfect comic timing, “It’s like Paris without the Eiffel Tower. Or Las Vegas without the Eiffel Tower.”
At the end of “Formidable,” Stromae’s coughs were so alarmingly convincing that a security guard glanced up to check that the performer was still OK.
“Carmen” and “Humain à l’eau,” both songs that are critical of the consumerism of modern society, held extra power in this Vegas setting. And during “Alors on Danse,” the bass pulsing from those speakers right in front of my chest pounded on my lungs so hard that it made me have to stop dancing for a second to catch my breath. But the cool desert breeze was lovely, and Stromae was sweating much less than usual without those stage lights.
The Cosmopolitan published a nice set of photos from the show.
Stromae did emerge in the early hours of the morning to greet a small group of supporters. He shook hands all around as we thanked him. He was incredibly human and gracious, thanking us for our support just as warmly as we thanked him. People passed by all around us in the crowded hotel lobby, with only a few brief curious glances our way. Nobody stopped. Even in a city that’s billed as “The Entertainment Capital of the World,” Stromae’s still relatively anonymous. He and his team were to spend the night and the following day in Vegas, so we said our goodbyes so they could be on their way and enjoy their time off. A few minutes later, they passed by again, going the other direction, and we were able to wish them “bonne soirée” one last time.
They say that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Not this time. This time, what happened in Vegas — the moments shared with Stromae and his team, the moments with friends — will always stay with me.
All photos for this article by Amy and Nelson Van Vranken