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Neon Reverb Saturday: Julie’s journal

The Beat inexplicably reeked of paint thinner when I arrived at 7 p.m. to partake of a sponsorship-reduced $2 Sierra Nevada. Locals Asterionella began a muted, regrettably featureless set of taciturn shoegaze 15 minutes later, varying little musically and saying even less between songs. Two-thirds of the way through, frontwoman Kelley Karas doubled her banter output when she noted, “This is our moshpit song” before launching into “Say You Won’t,” an absolute thrasher of a punk throwdown, complete with gleefully chaotic percussion outro. When the remainder of the set sank right back into repetitiveness, and I was sure the Sierra Nevada left me imagining the entire welcome respite. [Thinking about it later, it might have been a simple case of mismatched venue – the band would have surely been more in its element at former Reverb venue the Aruba Showroom.]

Turning left onto 6th to check out the Vegas StrEATS Festival—a promising convergence of food trucks, streetwear artists and live outdoor music on the El Cortez promenade—massive skytracker lights swirled upward at the front entrance. Inside, seven trucks lined the north side of the street, with a Budweiser truck conveniently parked midway through, merchant tables on the south border and a stage/DJ setup to the west. By 8:45 I’d bought two ahi tuna wraps from the Island Breeze truck for $6, two pieces from the Original Hooligan Art table for $75, and, most remarkably, and shared two beers and two generous Jameson shots from the Bud truck to the tune of $10.

There were signs that something was afoot at the Griffin when The Honest Engines started right smack on the stroke of 9. Ostensibly just Skooners frontman Blair Dewane and cellist Courtney Waldron, tonight’s five-piece was far more musically and physically tight than expected. Rapidly climbing onward past three dozen, the back-room crowd embraced the indie/alt-country-tinged tunes, each fully formed, explosive and awash in instrumental interplay—and boasting exactly zero of The Skooners’ affected pretense. (A Crowd of Small Adventures violinist Megan Wingerter stood right up front; I spent more than a few minutes imagining the two duking it out for stringed supremacy, “Devil Goes Down to Georgia” style.)

“Keep Your Head Down” proved a rollicking hoedown march; “Mountain Top” a radio-ready builder, dripping with urgency and culminating in a series of breathless bombardments. Dewane’s falsetto and singsong vocals and careful orchestration combined with a certain rough-and-ready shake called to mind Ryan Adams and the Cardinals, albeit with a poppier bent.

“If you guys like the Skooners, they’re playing at 2 a.m. at the food truck festival!” Dewane revealed before bringing things to a victorious close. Skoowho? Forget the past and look to the future: That may have been the most spectacular debut viewing I’ve ever experienced in Vegas.

***

Text dispatches from a Neon Reverb newbie at The Beat:

Not joking – the band here right now has opened awesomely

This band is phenomenal

Short melodic anthems – magnificent

These guys are good

They are called BIG FRIENDLY CORPORATION

Snow Patrol blended with a Choral Blink 182 with constant subversive undertow

Oh wow! Now the chick has got the keytar out!

He ended song by saying “take that coffee shop!”

Delightful elements of less populist mid-decade REM

Need vocal consistency – three different lead singers in a five piece

They are genuinely and authentically “joyful”

And above all else they know what they’re doing

***

I made it back to the Beat for the last BFC song, and yep, they were indeed blowing the roof off the place. When I returned to the StrEATS Festival, most food-truck lines were somewhere around 50 snaking yards long, yet somehow beer lines were essentially non-existent .Another two ahi wraps from the Island Breeze truck and I headed for the Bunkhouse, where Deerhunter-approved Canadian art-rockers Braids are slated to go on at 11.

Unfortunately as I approached the door, Reverb producer Jason Aragon confessed that Braids had collectively disappeared somewhere or other, so dream-pop tourmates Asobi Seksu (translated as Playful Sex) would trade slots with them. That is to say, as the show was running late following The Wild Complete, Writer, Twin Brother and Cuckoo Chaos, Asobi Seksu would go on in their regularly scheduled midnight spot, followed by Braids and finally Tape Deck Mountain.

The room became absolutely packed as midnight approached; it was essentially impossible to maneuver in the front section. Ten minutes later, a guy in front of me hollered to his friend, “This is the longest soundcheck I’ve ever heard in my life!” Another few minutes, and an exasperated “Hurry this shit up!” rang out from near the side door.

Diminutive singer/keyboardist Yuki Chikudate & Co. did finally begin at 12:20, clocking in at an hour-plus changeover in the midst of a seven-band bill. How did they sound? Loud and fast.

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