With only one of three Gentleman Callers band members in tow (banjo and pedal steel player Bryan Daste), earthy acoustress and spring 2010 Neon Reverb vet Emma Hill kicked off evening two of Neon Reverb with an intimate and joyous 40 minutes in front of what seemed to be two dozen close, personal friends at the Beat coffeehouse. After praising the festival as "super kickass," she admitted the Portland duo, currently on a last-minute national tour courtesy of JetBlue's All You Can Jet pass, had to leave tomorrow afternoon, so they planned to "pack it all in tonight." Set highlights included new number "You're My Man," a witty and reverent tribute to Leonard Cohen, as well as hilarious, pro-estrogen closer "When You're a Girl."
Chris Leland (acoustic), Wyatt McKenzie (electric) and Joe Ervin (harmonica) followed Hill as a trio version of frequent shape-shifters Dreaming of Lions. "We're not very good, "Leland warned, "so you probably don't want to stay." The ramshackle and unfocused performance admittedly was marred by flubs and made up as they went along; at times the three appeared to actually revel in their ambivalence. Suppose some big industry type happened to have journeyed from LA and decided to check out the local talent represented at this festival showcase. Would this be the best Vegas had to offer? I took Leland's advice and left after 15 minutes.
It must have been fate, because lo and behold, the double-decker shuttle was parked right outside. A little jacking up of the dragging tailpipe and up myself and a half-dozen Aruba-bound riders climbed. Inside we were privy to red leather, two flatscreens, an overhead DJ booth and of course ample supplies of chilled Red Bull. Without a doubt a most welcome addition to the festival.
The Beauty Bar's outside stage housed Taylor Locke & the Roughs when I arrived at 9:45, though it took a few minutes to recognize the short-haired singer/guitarist as the same Rooney frontman previously identifiable by his flowing mane. Between the matching black suits and soulful take on frills-free classic rock (the setlist included "Los Feliz" and "Tarred, Feathered & Scarlet Lettered," off forthcoming album Marathon), it was the most polished, professional set I'd see so far. Unfortunately the crowd was a little on the light side, and possibly just there early for hometown wavemakers Imagine Dragons.
As the Roughs finished at 10:10, Beauty Bar's indoor stage came alive with the ever-escalating harmonies of swoony, psych-leaning indie power-rockers The Webb Brothers (sons of singer/songwriter/composer Jimmy). If the five-piece felt a bit squished in the small area, it didn't show. Rather, they were visibly stoked by the extremely vocal (read: unyieldingly, femininely shrieky) reception and by the fact that they were in Vegas at all: "This is the first time we've played here. About 20 years ago we got lost in the desert and our tour bus broke down and we never quite made it." As an added bonus, the band announced that Webb brother James would be getting married the following day. The shrieks were deafening.
Kudos to the Beauty Bar for ensuring the transitions between alternating shows ran remarkably smoothly; just a few additional minutes of soundchecking were all it took for dance-rock locals Imagine Dragons to launch into their set. The second-to-last time I saw the quintet was this same stage at a previous Reverb (the last being SXSW in March), and tonight definitely fell prey to a bit of a rocky start. Perhaps because of cannibalization from the Aruba's Abe Vigoda/Crocodiles/The Soft Pack/Twin Brother show, the Dragons audience was thinner and more subdued than I'd ever seen. It took about halfway through the set, around the time frontman Dan Reynolds introduced a brand-new number called "Tokyo" — evoking a Modest Mouse-ian march and slinky keyboard courtesy of Brittany Robinson — that the crowd fully came alive. The band responded in turn, taking the dancing and fist-pumping to messianic heights and announcing that they'd recently spent time recording at the Palms studio.
Ears ringing from the climatic crescendo of "Clouds," I made my way through the dueling cover bands at Hennessey's Tavern and Mickie Finz, then past a lone acoustic strummer covering Counting Crows' "Round Here" in the Brass Lounge to poke my head into the Country Saloon. The Black Jetts had canceled because of singer/guitarist Gabe Stiff calling in sick, and the Saloon was currently between bands, so I opted to grab a bite and recharge for the Beauty Bar's closing salvo.
By 1:15 a.m. colored lasers were playing against the wall behind the audience and Sweethead frontwoman Serrina was in full Sunset Strip swagger. Unfortunately it was far more entertaining to watch Killer Mark Stoermer chat with Beauty Bar owner Paul Devitt, and the fog machine's output was so thick it was impossible to tell if Bowie-loving Queens of the Stone Age guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen was in fact on stage up there somewhere.
The crowd had silently parted when former Zwan bassist — and, like Van Leeuwen, former A Perfect Circle member — Paz Lenchantin arrived earlier in the evening. Finally, at 2 a.m., the 100 or so that remained appeared nearly hypnotized as she stood, barefoot, all in black, hair down to her ass, high atop an on-stage speaker and lithely leapt down to welcome the opening burst of The Entrance Band's moody, heavily psychedelic set. Light on lyrics and chatter, frontman Guy Blakeslee bellowed from depths somewhere within his black floral dress over impossibly skinny, striped pants, while the only other visible aspect beyond the thrashing mane of similarly skinny drummer Derek James' hair was the yellow maraca he implemented to pound cymbals and snares. While they sounded fantastic, as 3 a.m. neared, either they truly were a remarkable cross between A Place to Bury Strangers and a more intense version of the Muppets' Electric Mayhem Band, or it was high time I got some sleep.