Neon Reverb has always emphasized local music, but this weekend’s installment of the Downtown festival has gone one step further, making Vegas bands the centerpiece of its reconfigured, two-venue schedule. Saturday night’s Las Vegas Weekly Showcase at the Bunkhouse, for example, featured six locals among the bill’s seven acts.
More Neon Reverb
- Report: All the Apparatus steals the show at Beauty Bar
- Report: Coastwest, The Clydesdale and chills
- Report: A Slovenly night at the Bunkhouse
- Report: The Beauty Bar in Mint condition
- Report: Wednesday kickoff at the Bunkhouse
- Our Neon Reverb cheat sheet
- Discussing the restructured Neon Reverb plus a look at the schedule
First up: Same Sex Mary … sort of. The bluesy Boulder City quintet’s familiar lineup looks different tonight. Drummer Mike McGuinness broke his left wrist skateboarding last week, so Candy Warpop’s Anisa Marie is filling in—after just one night of practice, frontman James Adams informs the crowd. Marie does a commendable job (with help from a few Adams hand cues) and keeps a big smile on her face throughout the tricky assignment. McGuinness, meanwhile, bangs on bongos with his right hand just off the stage. Same Sex has more Vegas shows and some out-of-town tour dates scheduled, and keyboardist Tsvetelina Stefanova tells me McGuinness plans to get back behind the drums for those, one way or another. “Mike’s gonna Def Leppard it,” she says.
Also, kudos to the band for releasing debut album Sex Cells on high-quality 180-gram vinyl (I bought a copy; you should, too), and for its set-closing cover of Songs: Ohia’s “Captain Badass,” dedicated to that band’s leader, Jason Molina, who died last weekend.
The action shifts outside, where locals Love Hate Away try to draw bodies away from the warmth of the bar into the unseasonably cold night. The five-piece band, poppy with a dash of ska, feels a bit out of place among the more traditional Downtown favorites but makes the most of its time slot. Singer Christiana Chavez gets the crowd clapping in time and sounds, Neon Reverb co-founder James Woodbridge points out, a lot like Everything But the Girl’s Tracey Thorn.
The next act, solo performer MaeDea from Port Townshend, Washington, sounds a little like Joanna Newsom, and her act is about as ill-suited for the by-now loud and crowded Bunkhouse as the harpist’s would be. Still, as MaeDea pours her energy into her piano, her guitar and her microphone, there’s something sorta mesmerizing about her arty folk tunes. Definitely something to check out later—in a quieter setting.
Back outside. I’ve seen A Crowd of Small Adventures more than 25 times, and until tonight, I’ve never seen the indie-rock outfit live without Mike Weller onstage. But the Vegas band’s third guitarist (and former drummer) is finishing a tour with Rusty Maples (for whom he plays bass), so Crowd will have to make do without him. Most songs sound like their full-lineup versions—one, “Soft Lit Sorrow,” is so new, we wouldn’t know if it didn’t—with the biggest noticeable differences logistical ones: The band doesn’t play Weller’s “The Balls,” and Tony Sermeno drums on the set’s oldest cut, “Fast Travel,” for the first time live.
Afterward, producer Eric Rickey tells me the new A Crowd of Small Adventures EP, which will include five of the seven songs performed tonight, could be one Jackson Wilcox vocal session from completion.
Same Sex Mary was originally scheduled to play next, but while searching for a replacement drummer, switched spots. The biggest beneficiary is Vegas’ Dusty Sunshine, now playing to the night’s thickest crowd inside. Same Sex’s more bar-friendly rock might have made more sense at this point—I can hear too many voices talking over Dusty’s meticulously constructed folk tunes—but the group’s four-part female harmonies still sound good. Of particular note: countrified new song “The Nest,” with lead vocals from Heidi Guinn and lyrics about tumbleweeds.
The Big Friendly Corporation drew the short straw. 12:30 a.m. wouldn’t normally seem like a bad slot, but it’s hand-numbingly cold now and the big crowd inside the Bunkhouse is not coming outside. A few bodies brave it, but the longtime Las Vegas power-pop quintet deserves a lot better. Technical issues—the four vocalists’ mics are intermittently too low in the mix—add to a tough scene, but props to BFC for finishing strong and especially, to Timothy Styles for rocking a T-shirt in the frigid temps.
Last up: American Cream, whose guitar-fueled rock tunes sound like they arrived in a time machine from 1974. It’s a poor fit for an otherwise indie-centric bill, but it seems to have drawn a small crowd of its own, which dances and orders more drinks as the clock moves past 2 a.m.