Sports Illustrated baffled pretty much everyone last week by celebrating its annual swimsuit issue with a two-day Beauties and Beats music festival showcasing emerging indie acts. In theory, the string of shows at the Cosmopolitan, paired with various meet-and-greets with the models, seemed an apt fit for the hipster-chic hotel. But as these things go, execution varied somewhat from intent.
The headliners—on-the-rise acts some might have heard of, but most probably haven’t heard—were well-suited for the fest. San Diego’s Delta Spirit brought jaunty blues-rock to Book & Stage Wednesday night, taking full advantage of the setup by walking onto the bar mid-set and taking swigs from the bottles on the shelf. If you weren’t dancing by the end of the set, you weren’t there.
Atlanta’s Black Lips easily drew the biggest crowd of the festival to the Castellana Ballroom Thursday. Despite the awkward banquet-hall setting, the 90-minute set lacked not for moshing, dancing, toilet-papering and beer-bottle-smashing; guitarist Cole Alexander kept with the spirit of the festival by donning a pink woman’s swimsuit and blonde wig—and eventually taking it all off. The festival itself ran smoothly, with sets starting when and where they were supposed to, rare for concerts of any size these days.
But the music itself seemed like an afterthought for the SI folks. Lesser-known acts like Selebrities and Maluca (both from New York) were given impractically early set times, and barely anybody turned out to hear them. None of the promised “stage-side swimsuit models” showed up either, apart from those introducing bands and quickly disappearing (TVs did, however, loop odd promo videos of the models throughout the sets). And then there was the use of the Castellana—far too big and sterile for bands like these. At best, as with the Black Lips, it felt like a punk-rock bar mitzvah. At worst, as with LA reggae-rappers Elan Atias & White Elephant, who drew a tiny crowd, it was insulting.
It makes you wonder whether the magazine wanted to showcase new artists or market indie street cred. Still, the festival provided rising bands with a gig they probably wouldn’t get otherwise—and brought Las Vegas music fans new sounds.