In the bowling alley upstairs at Jillian’s, a guitar player from a local band brings me a plastic cup of beer. The Earland brothers of Vegas band Lips Like Morphine, fair-skinned despite being the sons of a famous black jazz musician, are working their way through a heady line-up of songs. “Oh, silicone parts and impure thoughts running around my head/White lines and too much time, my soul is nearly dead/There are so many things I’d like to forget/So many things are better quietly kept/If you only knew what happens after dark/What are you gonna do?/You’re gonna run run run run run/Away from the city of lights, the city of lights.”
Ahmud Earland is beating the shit out of his drums, while brother Charles gropes his microphone like a lover. He takes sips of beer in between songs, and jumps up and down. The sweat streaming down his face blurs his eyeliner. “His voice is too full of testosterone for indie dance music,” says a friend.
A few minutes later we’re on our way to Beauty Bar to hear Afghan Raiders. Inside we meet the bar’s owner, who gives us poker chips good for free drinks. The backyard is packed with piercings, men with long hair, women with short hair, black fingernails on everybody and clothes that made you think of Nylon magazine. On my way back to the car I pass the bar where, on another night, a waitress screamed at the guy I was with, “Don’t bring your fucking girlfriend to my work!” She stared at me, eyes bright with hurt and anger, her lips stuck shut in impotency, while he grinned crazily, uncaring.
Tonight there is no screaming. While I walk under the white Fremont canopy in the chilly night air, Norah Jones sings softly and soothingly, “Come away with me, in the night …” The groups of drunken strangers talking loudly about sex have broken off in pairs to find dark corners. Gone are the live bands rocking out under the giant electronic cowboy. Clusters of tourists and locals still hunch over poker tables at Binion’s.
“There’s no place like Vegas, except for maybe Hollywood,” said my wasted friend, leaning his head back on the passenger seat and looking out the window as we drove home one night after a Mickey Avalon concert at the top of Voodoo Lounge. “I could smell the [chicks] passing up and down the stairs.”