12 Volt Sex, the greatest Las Vegas alt-rock band of the late ’90s, is back in town. Last time they played a show was five years ago at the now-defunct Empire Ballroom. They’ve gathered in a rehearsal space this week in preparation for a one-off reunion performance at Beauty Bar on Feb. 19 with indie upstarts A Crowd of Small Adventures. The band, which signed with RCA only to watch the label sit on its 2000 major-label debut, Stereo Quatro, insists there’s no ulterior motive.
“This one is just for fun,” guitarist Michael Stratton tells me. “We’re going to play five songs from each of our three albums.”
The final album 12 Volt Sex recorded was 2006’s Fix, which yielded many now-classic songs, including the bass guitar trance-rock of the title track and the fierce synth-and-guitar fusillade of “Mutual.” Fix was a sign of more musical greatness to come, but the band took a break. The record industry was collapsing, so who can blame them? Besides, it’s not like any of these guys hung up his instrument.
“I still play all the time, and our music was never the most complicated,” admits Stratton, who today works as a restaurant manager at P.F. Chang’s. “The first two run-throughs of the set were tough. By the third, it had all come back.”
Since vocalist Matt Gucu (formerly Matt Chernoff) and bassist Jason Coleman live in Oregon, songs were hashed out and selected via e-mail with only minor quibbles. The band settled on a chronological set list featuring most if not all of their best-known material—from the sensual ballad “Skin” to the buoyant pop of “Over Divine.”
“The early stuff we haven’t played in 10 years is the most fun,” Stratton says. “I’d forgotten how much fun those songs were. There are also some deep cuts we never got around to playing live toward the end of our run as a band.”
Adding to the awesomeness is Dollar Loan Center’s sponsorship, with radio ad spots purchased and the band’s out-of-pocket expenses covered.
“We were responsible for the jingle,” Stratton says. “The company has always supported our music.”
Stratton has no misgivings about the band’s legacy as the first Vegas alt-rock to almost make it and harbors no jealousy toward his pals in The Killers.
“Maybe, if anything, I’m proud that our band cracked open that door to the big labels a little. Before us, not much attention was given to this town’s indie-rock scene.”
Ultimately, this week’s show is a celebration. Stratton finds himself reconnecting with fans via e-mail and Facebook. They send messages like, “Your show was the first I ever went to, and you guys rocked!”
“You forget the songs you write could be someone’s favorite,” he says, reflecting for a moment. “We want to honor that.”