There’s something wonderfully life-affirming about seeing a Strip headliner slumming it in a downtown dive bar. That only-in-Vegas moment happened July 8 at the Bunkhouse, when outspoken atheist/bassist Penn Jillette (of Penn & Teller) led the inaugural performance of his No God Band. Their 90-minute set of “stupid rock ’n’ roll” served as a warm-up for their gig at the skeptics convention, TAM (The Amaz!ng Meeting). And since they wanted an audience of a similar mind-set, they played the first gig of their two-gig lifespan for Rebel Secular Student Society’s fundraiser.
The six-piece outfit performed 17 songs to a starstruck audience (Penn must be the hero of adolescent atheists). There were some easy covers that will appeal to conventioneers (“YMCA” and “Gimme Three Steps”), some delightfully weird covers (Jonathan Richman’s “I Was Dancing in the Lesbian Bar”) and some tweaked versions of what would otherwise be easy covers (a haunting surf-rock “Viva Las Vegas,” which sounded like a sexy funeral dirge). All the songs somehow invoked death, which must be a sort of rallying cry for atheists.
They also played four Penn-penned tunes. Penn said his cheery “Clothes of the Dead,” had to do with buying clothes from the Salvation Army. But it sounded like an apocryphal addition to the Little Shop of Horrors soundtrack … in a good way.
Although Penn had the star power, his bandmates were equally compelling. Local lounge hero Lon Bronson played an incredible cover of Herb Alpert’s “This Guy’s in Love With You” on the trumpet. Jersey Boys dance captain Sarah Lowe sang a hilariously subversive duet of “My Boyfriend’s Back” with a gravel-voiced Penn.
And Penn, who plays the upright bass in a pre-Penn & Teller jazz duo, even convinced partner-in-jazz Mike Jones to play the piano.
Here’s hoping that there’s life after death for the No God Band.