The words “up-and-coming band” can strike terror into the hearts of live music fans. Because too often, they translate to “inexperienced,” “suffering from stage fright” or just plain “bad.” Still, the Palms is rolling the dice every Tuesday with its Emerge Indie Showcase, which presents three or four bands for free in the Lounge. Always willing to take a gamble myself, I headed to the Palms, grabbed a booth and tuned in for what, with a 9 p.m. start time, would at the very least be the earliest live show I’d ever see in Las Vegas.
You wouldn’t expect much turnout on a Tuesday night in January. The fans and friends of the three acts on the bill, however, were out in full force, packing lower-level tables and eventually overflowing to the upper deck. This is a good thing, obviously, but can also be a bad thing in terms of newbies’ stomach butterflies. Thankfully, it didn’t seem to affect the show much once it got started in earnest.
The acts themselves diverged wildly—a melodic three-piece playing Jack Johnson-y songs, a one-man band cum comedian and a jazz ensemble featuring a saxophone. The lineup was only made more jarring by odd, ever-changing lighting choices and a fog machine that periodically made the laid-back Lounge look like 19th-century London. Yet each act managed to put such distractions aside, bringing something fresh to the table beyond its mere genre.
Local act If Anything might not have started out rock-solid, but after one member ditched his bass for an acoustic guitar and the singer had a drink and got over his nerves, they played some radio-quality songs that would make John Mayer smile. They also dabbled in scatting in a couple of songs, which gave their sound more of an edge.
Phil Stendek put an end to the mellow mood by playing drum-based funk and covering Warren G and The Who. He was introduced by the showcase’s organizer, who mentioned that Stendek had played his wedding. After seeing Stendek perform, I was left wondering what kind of wedding that guy had.
Stendek’s music is an interesting blend made possible by the looping of sounds he makes and records onstage, allowing him to sound like a full band and turning his guitar and drum kit into anything he wants. This alone might not be that weird at a wedding, especially given his tendency to cover popular hits from the past, but when you add in Stendek’s personal brand of comedy, which includes Michael McDonald impersonations and belching, you start to wish you had been there when he serenaded the couple. The Dan Band might seem tame by comparison.
By the time a jazz band in fedoras took the stage, I pretty much felt like I’d seen it all. And that’s the point of a showcase like this. The Palms’ Emerge Indie Showcase is free, offers plenty of seating and has a pleasant atmosphere, so it might be a better cure for your Tuesday-night doldrums than your average open-mic. That said, they could turn off the fog machine and lower the drink prices. A girl can dream, can’t she?