Neon Reverb Friday: Spencer’s journal

The Fremonts play the Gypsy Den.
Photo: Spencer Patterson

On a perfect weather night, the Gypsy Den might be my favorite Neon Reverb venue. The carnival atmosphere of the Downtown vintage shop’s outdoor area—art, swirling light projections, conversation, flowing alcohol (on this night, kegs of $2 Sierra)—provide an interesting backdrop for the music, performed on a decorated, well-elevated stage at the property’s east end.

Vegas trio Coastwest Unrest is working through some technical issues when I arrive, and has to cut its set short soon after to keep the six-band bill moving. Still, the lyric-driven folk-punks manage to make an impression, drawing extra applause when singer/guitarist Noah Dickie works a few Minutemen references (“I’m D. Boon’s love child”) into one of their songs.

Reno’s Moondog Matinee play next, and the quintet’s blues rock draws a big crowd to the open area near the stage. And then it’s time for the venue’s main event, the return of The Fremonts. The longtime local hillbilly foursome hasn’t been seen much this decade, playing just once—at Todd Sampson’s memorial concert—in the past five years, according to bassist Rob Ruckus. The punk-scene veteran tells me Fremont frontman Willie Faris has recently moved back to Las Vegas from Montana, however, and that the band is ready to relaunch as an active project.

Tonight’s Fremont set is predictably fun and loose, mixing twangy originals with old-school country favorites from the likes of Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard and Townes Van Zandt, along with a sublime take on Tom Waits ballad “Blind Love.” Faris, Ruckus, guitarist Mike Powers and drummer Gary Wright have their small but appreciative audience dancin’ and hollerin’ for the better part of an hour before leaving the stage with a final, shouted “We’re back!” promise from Ruckus.

Chablis, a makeshift six-piece featuring members Texas comedic country outfit Brown Whornet and three Vegas bands is up next. Cowboy hat-topped drummer Doug Frye tells me the group has practiced exactly twice together, and the ramshackle first number, which sees frontman Tyler Harwood literally pushed onto the stage from below, seems to bear that out. I’m curious to see more, but the festival-headlining Dodos are scheduled to start soon at the Bunkhouse, so I say goodbye to the Gypsy Den and head farther south.

When I reach the saloon at 11th and Fremont—the unofficial hub for this fall Neon Reverb edition— I notice the fencing around the parking lot to the building’s southwest side. It’s there because tonight marks the debut of the venue’s first-ever outdoor stage, a massive wooden platform constructed on Thursday.

The Bunkhouse seems relatively quiet inside, but as I pass through the rear door I find myself in an exciting new setting, a huge outdoor expanse that’s home to a good-sized crowd, the scent of grilled burgers and the sounds of the just-finishing Mumlers out of San Jose. This new spot has real potential, which several local promoters are already excitedly discussing as The Dodos begin setting up.

When the San Francisco trio kicks off its set around 1, I’m immediately struck by the power of the sound—the band’s and the new stage’s. The group’s folkish rock is exploding out the speakers, more intense musically than what I expected, with two guitars and Meric Long’s vocals fighting for space above Logan Kroeber’s forceful drumming. It’s super loud and, best of all, crystal clear.

For the next hour, The Dodos work through their four-disc catalog—heavy on cuts from new album No Color. In addition to sounding great, the band looks cool, cloaked in dim red lights. Behind them are the spiny branches of a leafless tree and, off in the distance behind that, looms the glowing red needle of the Stratosphere. Here’s hoping we see a lot more shows out here.

Photo of Spencer Patterson

Spencer Patterson

Spencer Patterson is the Editor of Las Vegas Weekly, having previously served as Managing Editor, Arts & Entertainment Editor and ...

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