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The Pearl at the Palms aims to remain in style

Updated December 8, 2017 - 9:52 pm

The reliably fashionable Jon Gray would never allow himself to go out of style. The same is true for the entertainment venue under Gray’s sway, the Pearl Concert Theater at the Palms.

“We are totally upgrading it,” Gray, the Palms’ general manager, said Friday afternoon. “It’s very exciting, having grown up there, frankly, that I am here while we’re making it new again.”

The venue, which opened a decade ago, is long overdue due for a makeover. The process begins after Monday night’s performance by The Killers in a show billed as “Holiday Havoc” and promoted by KXTE-FM 107.5 of Las Vegas. Bleachers and Joywave are the openers.

Gray was on-property when the Pearl opened with a show by Evanescence in March 2007. He built his reputation as a smart and savvy exec while with the Palms during its high-water era under owner George Maloof in the mid-to-late 2000s. Gray left for executive positions at the Linq Promenade and Nike in Lake Oswego, Oregon, before being sky-hooked back to Las Vegas after Station Casinos owners Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta III purchased the Palms in late 2016.

The company is spending $485 million on upgrades of hotel and casino floor. On Friday morning, the Palms announced the A.Y.C.E. (All You Can Eat) Buffet will open Dec. 22. This is no ordinary buffet, with seven separate culinary stations under the direction of Master Chef David Kellaway and Chefs Joseph Kudrak and Patrick Higgins.

With such an extensive outlay, there was no way the Pearl would remain untouched. The room will be dark until at least March.

“We really wanted to focus on maintaining the integrity of acoustics of the room,” Gray said of the 2,500-seat theater. “That’s one thing we hear, resoundingly, from the talent to the guests, the sound quality and intimacy of the Pearl is a unique experience that I don’t think anyone else in town offers.”

The plan is to maintain the design of the venue, adding bottle service, bolstering service staff and building bars into the VIP boxes and promenades. Basic creature comforts like new seating throughout the venue are being added. The Pearl has always been a flexible venue, so expect more in-the-round seating patterns in a room that has also hosted boxing and mixed-martial arts cards.

More prominent for ticket-buyers is the Pearl’s booking partnership with Live Nation. The concert promotion company has been an industry leader in Las Vegas for what is now known as the “mini-residency,” or extended engagement, bringing in star artists for a dozen or so performances over a few weeks each year.

Expect the Pearl to mix it up with The Venetian Theater, The Colosseum at Caesars, Axis theater at Planet Hollywood, the Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel and Encore Theater at Wynn Las Vegas for major, mini-resident headliners. Live Nation President Kurt Melien has led efforts to bring such artists and Steely Dan, Il Divo, Rascal Flatts, Earth Wind & Fire and Chicago to the Strip.

Lest we forget, Pearl has hosted some major, arena-scope acts over the years, including rock stalwarts Journey and Kiss, and in its early era booked such then-ascending superstars as Lady Gaga and Bruno Mars.

“I hate to keep (going back) to the good-old days, but the Pearl, in the day, was known for booking the best headline acts as well as up-and-coming acts, and we want to bring it back to that,” Gray says. “In the last five years, it has not been known for major headliners coming through, and entertainment needs to be a strategic pillar for the property. We are in a lot of conversations for residencies right now.

“We’re going after big acts, and we’ll be doing bigger shows, fighting with the big boys to get big names.”

Gray and Live Nation are not going rogue here, either.

“We have a lot of support from ownership to do this,” he says. ”Frank and Lorenzo are directly involved all these conversations.”

There is no plan to rename the venue.

“It’ll be the Pearl of old for programming, and maintain its flexibility, but will bring unique things that aren’t being done in showrooms,” Gray says. “We talked about changing the name, with the refresh of the room. But we like the name of the Pearl, we like the venue.”

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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