Folks who hang out downtown are no doubt aware of the semiannual musical shockwave known as the Neon Reverb Music Festival. Every September and March, the three local music lovers turned promoters who run Neon Reverb—James Woodbridge, Jason Aragon and Thirry Harlin—go into warp drive and concentrate the Vegas music scene into a multi-day/multi-venue event.
When the first festival was being organized, profits (or lack thereof) were never the issue. The whole endeavor, Woodbridge says, is fueled by sheer will, a sense of urgency and love of music. He added that local musicians supporting this idea of coming together is integral to make Neon Reverb happen.
To me, the festival has a feel of something “not from Las Vegas”: Music fans simultaneously zipping past one another, from venue to venue, holding festival schedules as if they were made of gold, leaving the familiar East Fremont panhandlers totally bewildered. Think of Neon Reverb as a combination of SXSW, Coachella and the Viking hordes on those Capital One commercials.
But to talk about the festival’s vibe, you gotta talk about the venues. This fall, the fifth installment of the festival will center on the intersection of Fremont and Sixth streets, and all the usual venue suspects will be in full swing: the Beauty Bar, the Griffin and the Bunkhouse. Some new venues are in the mix this time, too: the pool at the newly renovated Gold Spike and some all-ages shows at everyone’s favorite new coffee shop, The Beat. Away from downtown, Boomers will be hosting the venerable Hip-Hop Showcase, headlined by Rakaa of Dilated Peoples on Sept. 18.
But as far as venues go, I love seeing shows at the historic Aruba Hotel. This place has survived McCarthyism, organized crime, the ’70s and Las Vegas’ unfortunate “family-friendly” phase. Over the past several years, the Aruba’s Thunderbird Lounge and its rediscovered showroom have been brought back into the local spotlight as a vital festival venue. And if you go to just one show this Neon Reverb event, it should be at the Aruba on Sept. 17 to see the Crocodiles and the Soft Pack. The booking of these two nationally acclaimed acts marks an important point in Neon Reverb history: Local promoters are vying for the same acts you might see at the House of Blues or the Hard Rock. This show alone is worth the price of a four-day ticket.
Pan De Sal
There are dozens of local acts that will amaze you. Mark your schedules for A Crowd of Small Adventures (Beauty Bar, Sept. 19), who have a new album coming out. Also, check out the peeps who reeeaaallly know how to get the party started: Pan De Sal (Beauty Bar, Sept. 18).
For you old-schoolers out there, find a babysitter and your Doc Martens and head on over to the Las Vegas Country Saloon on Sept. 18 to see classic Vegas punkers the Vermin open for legendary punk rockers The Adicts! About the same time at the Bunkhouse, I recommend national act, LoveLikeFire, fronted by former Las Vegan Ann Yu. Since leaving town several years ago, she has made good on her promises of forging ahead on her spellbinding project.
When it comes to latest in local music, all I can say is Kid Meets Cougar and the Skooners should be in the national spotlight. KMC is expected to be in rare indie/electro/hip-hop form to close out the night of Sept. 18 at the Beauty Bar in front of what might be a sold-out show. The Skooners are one of those rare bands that really have no gimmick; they’re just for people who are into seriously well-made and thoughtful rock ’n’ roll albums. This is why they are opening for the headline artist of this festival, the Walkmen (Sept. 19, Beauty Bar), whose new album, Lisbon, comes out right before the festival, on Sept. 14. Lisbon is more introspective, yet somewhat reminiscent of their famous 2004 album, Bows & Arrows. Note that Neon Reverb expects a large turnout for this show, and folks with full festival passes will be given priority.
While Neon Reverb Music Festival is the must-do music event this fall, it goes beyond just the bands and venues. I love the energy of frantic fans, the locale of downtown Las Vegas, the cooler weather, the aroma of beer being poured at the Beauty Bar or that of espresso at The Beat, right around 8:37 p.m. And all of this is made possible by Las Vegans who dig music, for Las Vegans who dig music.
7 Don’t-Miss Events
Since it first shook Fremont in 2008, the Neon Reverb Music Festival has become a staple of the Las Vegas music scene. More than 35 homegrown bands join forces with touring acts to dominate downtown for the weekend at nine intimate venues. 7 p.m. Sept. 16-19 (visit NeonReverb.com for lineup), all-festival pass $55.
Belle and Sebastian
Yo La Tengo
The New York City indie rock label Matador celebrates its 21st anniversary with a three-day bash headlined by 1990s rockers Pavement, Sonic Youth, Belle and Sebastian and Guided By Voices. Spoon, Yo La Tengo and Cat Power. Good luck getting tickets! Oct. 1-3, The Pearl in the Palms, 4321 W. Flamingo Road, MatadorRecords.com/21.
Vincent Falcone played piano and conducted the orchestra for the Chairman of the Board’s legendary shows; now he teams up with the Las Vegas Philharmonic and former Strip headliner Clint Holmes for A Tribute to Frank Sinatra. It’s the first concert in the Philharmonic’s Pop Series. 7 p.m. Oct. 2, UNLV’s Artemus W. Ham Concert Hall, 895-2787, $35-$75.
Bang the Head Slowly
The aging godfathers of thrash, Anthrax, Megadeath and Slayer come together to compare battle scars and make beautiful noise when The American Carnage Tour lands in Las Vegas. 7 p.m. Oct. 20, The Pearl in the Palms, 944-3200, $67 and $87.
They Say the Neon Lights Are Bright
Norm Lewis (The Little Mermaid), Brian Lane Green (Big River) and Las Vegas’ Brent Barrett (Phantom—The Las Vegas Spectacular) come together as The Broadway Tenors take you to the Great White Way for show tunes from West Side Story, Annie Get Your Gun, Brigadoon and other classic musicals. 8 p.m. Nov. 5, UNLV’s Artemus W. Ham Concert Hall, 895-2787, $40-$85.
Hitting the Armstrongs
The late 1990s brought the strange spectacle of college kids swing-dancing to howling horns. Big Bad Voodoo Daddy deserves a good deal of the credit, or blame, for this wholesome craze, and they’re coming to Las Vegas with cymbal crashing, rug-cutting hits such as “Go Daddy-O,” along with their latest release, “How Big Can You Get?” a tribute to Cab Calloway. 10 p.m. Nov. 6, Red Rock Casino, 11011 W. Charleston Blvd., 797-7777, $22 and $41.
Brotherhood of the Dance Floor
The musical masterminds/producers/remixers Chromeo describe themselves as “the only successful Arab/Jewish partnership since the dawn of human culture.” We can forgive the Canadian power-duo for glossing over the history of Moorish Spain because, well, they really know how to make us dance. Opening sets by DJs Flosstradamus and “chillwave” act Neon Indian. 6 p.m. Oct. 14, House of Blues in Mandalay Bay, 632–7600, $18 ($23 at the door).