Shine a Light

Nothing—not even some competition from a Strip hotel—can dim the homegrown music fest

News pseudo-flash: Neon Reverb no longer monopolizes the local market on live indie-rock and alt-music events as it did for most of the last two years. Today the four-man bunch—a professor, a musician, a conceptualizer and a radio DJ—finds itself primarily squaring off against the Cosmopolitan’s Book & Stage, a hot new indie-rock epicenter boasting lots of money for the hip bands and a killer sound system. This year’s big question is, how will the biannual alt-music fest adapt to the competition?

The guys don’t seem too worried; perhaps they should be. After all, B&S shows are every week like clockwork, each band playing a three- or four-night engagement with two sets a night, which means hipsters have several chances to see a band or come back to experience it all over again. B&S has serious dough to throw at these bands, luring them away from Neon Reverb’s smaller indie deals.

“We have lost acts to the Cosmo, yes,” confirms Thirry Harlin (the concept guy). “Just about every indie act that would normally set up a show with us has been picked up by Book & Stage.”

Bands may be defecting, but from what Harlin has seen and gauged from his “in-between fests” shows at places like the Bunkhouse Saloon, indie-rock enthusiasts are attending both sets of shows—Neon Reverb’s and the Cosmo’s. Which makes him feel better, if only a little, about another issue that free shows on the Strip poses.

“Hotels have the advantage of offering really expensive shows for free,” he says, after pointing out that Neon Reverb offers a few free shows of its own this time around (see “Super Eight” on page 82).

Regardless, it’s a win-win situation for indie fans. Sweetening the current live-music climate is the fact that two off-Strip hotels, inspired by Book & Stage’s example, are experimenting with free live rock bands—the Palms with the Lounge, and the Rio with Crown Theater. The thorn in Neon Reverb’s side looks to draw more blood.

However, Neon Reverb has readied its own secret weapon against the hotel-casinos: a truckload of ultra-cool indie acts. From Frenchkiss Records’ the Dodos, to Queens of the Stone Age bassist Michael Shuman’s Mini Mansions psyche-pop project, to Brooklyn shoegazers Asobi Seksu, this spring’s Neon Reverb is the best it’s ever been (even if indie darlings the Walkmen aren’t headlining as they did last September).

“We’re tough,” Harlin insists. “And fluid. That’s the beauty to being a small and nimble organization. We can recover from changes and adapt to new things pretty quickly. Which is kind of the general idea governing the whole ‘indie’ scene.”

That nimbleness is revealed in Neon Reverb’s collaborations, including one with the Slidin’ Thru slider truck on Saturday called Vegas StrEATs, “a street culture party,” featuring street foods, artists, performers and vendors around El Cortez and next to venues The Beat and Beauty Bar. (For more info, go to There’s also the We Are the NRA: Neon Reverb Artists art show, which launched March 4 (First Friday) at PWC Gallery (1221 S. Main St.), featuring a who’s who of Vegas visual artists.

Indeed, the local indie-rock scene seems more galvanized about the event, from the fans to the many Vegas bands selected to play during the four-day event. Minor Suns guitarist Ryan McIlvane makes the point that the festival continues to remind him and others that live rock music in Vegas is richer and more varied than ever before.

“Not many efforts that begin as homespun and music festivals pan out here,” he says. “So far, the Neon Reverb organizers have kept locals interested with great national and Vegas acts. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Neon Reverb evolve into something comparable to other well-known festivals like All Tomorrow’s Parties, provided they get support—from locals, bands, and the overall cultural scene in Las Vegas.”

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