Charles Earland jumps up and down on the checkerboard floor, sips his beer and makes love to the microphone. Sweat soaks his face, blurring his eyeliner. During a break between songs, he chastises his bandmates: “I don’t care if we’re playing to two people at church! We gotta play every song like it’s our last if we’re gonna make it.”
Less than a week earlier, on a Sunday night, Lips Like Morphine packed The Beatles Revolution Lounge—empty just moments before the band’s arrival—with sexy chicks. The girls remained on their feet for the entire set, singing, dancing, screaming, totally focused on the action, much to the chagrin of drunken men nearby. On a chilly Friday tonight, however, the crowds are far away from Jillian’s upstairs stage.
“We’re not going to be happy playing Dino’s, Art Bar and this place [Jillian’s],” Earland says afterward. “We want to break out; we want to go to the U.K., Ireland and Japan. I think that we would be a hit overseas; our sound would be hotter over there. I don’t think people in Vegas understand what we’re doing. It’s like, if you’re not on MTV and Pete Wentz [isn’t] saying your band is cool, they’re not feeling it. When we break the Vegas bubble and go to LA and New York, they are really going to appreciate us.”
Being frequently called the “next Killers” comes with a lot of pressure, but the Lips gang insists there’s no rivalry. In fact, Earland used to wait tables with Brandon Flowers back in 2001 at Josette’s, the French bistro in the old Aladdin hotel. Earland remembers Flowers getting girls to write their numbers on napkins; he says after work the two vocalists would go dancing at Seven or sing karaoke at the Beluga Bar or hit Crazy Horse Too for, well, you know.
Dell Star, Lips Like Morphine’s tie-wearing, moon-eyed bass player, was the original bassist for The Killers (and Dave Keuning’s onetime roommate). They played together for about a year before Star got “stressed,” had “an early mid-life crisis” and left the band. But Star says they still hang out. “Dave’s my favorite—he’ll actually drink and have a good time,” says Star. “It reminds me of the old days having fun at shows with Dave and Brandon.”
Lips Like Morphine’s sound roughly resembles The Killers’—neat pop-rock hooks washed in New Wave-y synths—but Earland’s voice features far more low-range alt-rock grit than Flowers’. Charles and his brother, Ahmad (the band’s drummer), who hail from New York, write all the lyrics. They were influenced by their father (also named Charles), a famous jazz musician who took them on summer bus tours and introduced them to soul, and by all sorts of records, from the Eddie Money, Kansas and Moody Blues they listened to as kids to the Brit-pop, hip-hop and grunge of their more recent past and present.
Lips Like Morphine, which also features PJ Gopaoco on guitar and Chris Lash behind the keys, has been steadily building a buzz in 2008, playing all over town—Puff Lounge, Wasted Space, Beauty Bar—and scoring a mention in LA-based URB magazine. The band is currently at work on its debut EP, with an eye toward signing with a label by January.