The solitary man, dark myth and Las Vegas legend known as Rod Pardey, a.k.a. Michael Valentine, has undergone many changes in the last few years. Immortalized in song by no less than The Killers (“The Ballad of Michael Valentine”) during the high-flying aughts, Pardey pushed his poker-playing profession aside, moving to Austin, Texas, with his band Romance Fantasy. He quickly learned that just because you’ve opened for Brandon Flowers & Co. in front of thousands doesn’t make the rock ’n’ roll game any easier. Romance Fantasy still found itself performing for two dozen people (or less) a night, barely scraping together enough cash to keep what one critic called the “premier Morrissey meets Merle Haggard” act from collapsing.
Pardey has adopted an even greater task this year by becoming head fundraiser and PR director for Arbo de Vivo. According to the nonprofit foundation’s website, the name is from the international language of Esperanto and means “tree of life.” The new group’s mission is to help the people of quake-ravaged Haiti in the aftermath of the devastating natural disaster.
“I flew out to the northern part of Haiti for two days in early April,” says Pardey, who joined Arbo de Vivo through a friend. “Man, my four semesters of UNLV French sure came in handy. The foundation has 50 acres allotted by the Haitian government for us to begin our work. We’re just waiting for our NGO [non-governmental organization] status before breaking ground.”
The idea is to plant vast rows of Moringa, a kind of miracle tree that serves as a source of food and protein and has 100 other uses to boot. Pardey is managing Arbo de Vivo’s Twitter feed, handling media interviews and reaching out to old acquaintances (including your friendly neighborhood Soundscraper) to spread the word about the foundation—and about the (sort-of) reformation of Romance Fantasy for a June 11 Arbo de Vivo benefit at Beauty Bar.
I say “reformation” because the band was completely quiet throughout 2009. Pardey instead opted to write new material, some of which he plans to debut next week. Even more daunting for Romance Fantasy, the group hasn’t played a show in Vegas since ’07! Moreover, this marks Romance Fantasy’s first bill with Pardey’s brother Ryan, whose quirky, confessional indie-rock band Halloween Town cut its teeth in Vegas. Also performing that night is a close friend of Pardey’s, singer/songwriter Bryan Todd, and the moody pop-rock group Transfer from San Diego.
“I have more than 30 songs written,” Pardey says. “Only a few will need to hit their intended target on that night.”
Check out myspace.com/romancefantasy and listen to country-goth-pop delights such as “Blackheart.” If Elvis Presley and Dolly Parton spawned a love child, it would’ve grown up to be Michael Valentine. Don’t forget to visit arbodevivo.org, too!