The Palms Casino Resort Hits the Jackpot with Two New Nightspots

It may be in the desert, but Las Vegas has never had a problem using water in its attractions, from Buccaneer Bay to Bellagio. The same is true at the Palms Casino Resort, a 42-story hotel just off the Strip on Flamingo Road, where the club scene is hip, happening, and wet. The main venue is Rain in the Desert, a 25,000-sq.-ft. (2,250 sq. m) multilevel club that has both a 16'-high (4.8m) wall of water and a moat around the dance floor. Last spring, Skin opened as a nighttime lounge that snakes around the swimming pools at the Palms, with go-go dancers on acrylic platforms in the water.

When the doors of Rain open at 10:30pm (this very popular club remains open until 5:00am), guests are immediately immersed in music, color-changing neon (pink, purple, and red on a chase), and fog in a tunnel lined with a gold-mirrored mosaic. Inside the club, expansive windows look out onto the Strip, embracing the mega-wattage lights of Las Vegas, while water fountains dance to the music in the moat around the raised bamboo dance floor. Live concerts range from Santana and the Neville Brothers to Pink (for live concerts at Rain, a full Morpheus rig with a dedicated Morpheus console are rented from the company's Vegas office).

Rain is notable for its spectacular flame effects, with a gas line running to the inner ring of two concentric circles of Tomcat truss suspended above the dance floor. Both rings can move vertically from the floor to the ceiling, but the outer ring also has six wings, or arms, that reach 12' (3.6m) from the truss and can tilt 45° in either direction, taking just six seconds for a full arc. The truss is controlled via Bat Alpha Modular Motion Control, with customized software to cope with the club's list of over 100 cues that can be hit at random.

According to technical director Adam Wuertz of the N9ne Group, Rain's fire effects “can be three-second-long jets of flame up to 8' [2.4m] long, or one-quarter-second 3'-diameter [0.9m] balls of fire. These can be scary,” he admits. Wuertz worked throughout the construction process at Rain, and specified the lighting rig for the club, which opened in November 2001.

“We had some budget issues,” he continues. “The flame effects and trussing were so expensive, we had to cut back a little on the lighting. So we started small,” expanding the rig over time. He began with six Martin Professional MAC 250 automated luminaires as the rig's workhorse units. Hung on the bottom of the center ring of truss, the MACs provide most of the fill for the dance floor. “They have a great range of movement,” Wuertz says. “They can sweep all the way to the ceiling and hit any spot in the room.”

Three MAC 500s on the outer ring of truss accent the MAC 250s. “I wanted to have more than one type of moving head in the rig,” explains Wuertz. Then he added 12 High End Systems Technobeam® fixtures four months after the club opened. These are placed at the tips of the truss wings. “These are what makes the room, adding movement and speed to the rig,” he says. “I cannot imagine the room without them.”

The rig is run via an Avolites Azure console with the lighting designed “on the fly,” Wuertz says. “Running lights in a nightclub is the best job you can have. You're a designer every night. It's such a fast-paced environment, you don't have to live with your mistakes. Each genre, from R&B to hip-hop and house, has its own structure, yet you never know what the DJ will play next.”

To make all this live programming possible, some cues are preprogrammed in the Azure. “There are too many buttons to push at one time to do it all on the fly,” admits Wuertz. He has each of the console's 10 faders preset to specific intensities for fixture groups. Similarly, the Azure is filled with preset movement patterns. “You can have movement that is chaotic or organized,” he says. “It depends on what you want at the moment, but that's all that's preprogrammed. If you start to preprogram colors or gobos you pigeonhole yourself. This is like concert lighting but it's different every night. You hit clear at the end of the night and it's gone.”

The club also has four automated roll-up video screens and four Panasonic 3,600-lumen projectors. The video images add to the environment and consist of anything from feature film clips to shots of animals and insects, mixed via a Videonics MX-Pro mixer. “We try to stay away from psychedelic images that are the standard in clubs now,” says Wuertz. He is moving toward using DVDs rather than VHS format because “the VCRs have trouble in the club environment with all the fog.”

The water wall is made of clear acrylic, with a row of Morpheus WetFader color changers attached to PAR-56s placed behind the wall, and 16 Martin Pro 400 fixtures chasing throughout the night so that the wall pulses with color to the music. In the moat around the dance floor are additional PAR-56s (with dichroic filters in amber, teal, dark blue, red, and green) run by a Gilderfluke serial console that also runs water effects. “These are color-coordinated to the frequencies of the music,” says Wuertz. He has it set up so that each frequency triggers valves to one color of lights and the water jets next to them. “The water shoots in the air so it looks like the fountains are dancing with the music,” he adds.

There are no dimmers in the club, except those used for the color-changing neon. “I don't see the point of conventional lighting anymore, at least not in this kind of environment,” says the 23-year-old Wuertz, who learned to program moving lights working at the Matthews Studio Group and then at Baby's, a club at the Hard Rock Hotel in Vegas. “They wanted to put in a moving-light rig and needed somebody to run it, so I went along with the equipment,” he says. “One moving light replaces up to 60 conventional fixtures and can do so much more.”

A crew of four runs Rain, with Wuertz usually on the fire and truss effects, Josh Kales of Third Ivan Productions on video, John Rowan designing the lighting, and a DJ spinning the music. (There are several house regulars, including DJ Hollywood and DJ R.O.B.)

“The lighting on any given night looks very coordinated, like a show, but it really is happening on the fly,” Wuertz confirms. He leans toward deep, saturated colors such as dark amber, magenta, and congo blue in the club environment. “You want to keep things as dark as you can, yet show off the lighting without making people uncomfortable. You can get a lot of punch from the moving lights without too much spill.”

In terms of gobos, Wuertz likes to keep them simple. “Complicated things like tribal patterns are a waste,” he says. “Using them makes it look like you just dimmed the lights. It's not about what the light looks like when it sweeps across the floor, but when it sweeps across your eyes.” His favorite club gobo is a simple pattern like three dots in the form of a triangle or one single off-center dot. “This is the best club gobo ever made,” he notes. “It's also good with bright colors. It cuts the light down with a very specific image. The one dot.”

At Skin the outdoor scene is laid around two swimming pools and two wading pools. The lighting rig includes 20 MAC 250s, 10 Martin Acrobats, and 10 Martin Raptors, also run by an Avolites Azure console. “This is the most powerful console in its price range,” says Wuertz. “When we auditioned moderately priced consoles, the Azure stood out. It has four universes of DMX, 20 memories, and a graphics tablet that is extremely useful to lay out all your palettes.”

Since the layout of Skin snakes around the pools, the lighting fixtures are divided into 10 groups, each comprised of two MAC 250s, one Raptor, one Acrobat, and one small Jem fog machine. Each group of fixtures is housed in one of 10 homemade Plexiglas “weather boxes” with a flip-up front. These are spread throughout the venue and hung on the walls of the building or on truss. All the DMX runs back to the console in the DJ booth.

“The lighting at Skin is much mellower, as it's a lounge, and less chaotic,” says Wuertz. “We keep the lights matching the mood of the music. There is more color but used in a more subdued way.”

Skin is the place to be if things heat up too much at Rain, where the fire effects are allowed to warm people up to 108°. “The closest I've ever gotten is 106°,” says Wuertz (the regulations were based on the temperature in the Backdraft ride at Universal Studios). Booths by the water wall can bring the temperature down, or guests can get some fresh air at the Ghost Bar atop the Palms. Here the views of Las Vegas are spectacular, and a glass window in the cantilevered deck looks down at the action around the pool at Skin. And keep an eye on the Palms. The N9ne Group plans to open three additional venues there in the next year. Nights in the desert have never been so cool.

Contact the author at elgreaux@primediabusiness.com.