Born (Yet) Again

After a successful relaunch, the multifaceted rock festival Las Vegas Shakedown returns

Downtown Las Vegas is on a serious roll with its growing line of established music parties: Neon Reverb, Punk Rock Bowling and Warped Tour. Now the urban core will rock harder with another promising festival. But unlike other fests, this fresh event runs the gamut of genres.

Fans of blues, punk, metal, power pop, rockabilly and psyche-rock are gathering as you read this in the Fremont East District for the Las Vegas Shakedown Rock & Roll Weekend. This three-day concert/bar crawl originally came to town in 2000 and triumphed thanks to killer sets by the Dictators, Real Kids and the Donnas.

It seemed certain the 2001 follow-up would slay, but then 9/11 happened days before the fest. Promoter Ralph Carrera was left holding the bag as bands and attendees canceled. “Well, actually, 9/11 was only one reason,” Carrera says. “My partners and I also had different ideas about what to do with the event.”

Nine years later, in 2010, Carrera—an L.A. promoter and wrestling fan (his company is Tiger Mask Events, after a Japanese masked wrestler)—was ready to try again.

“It felt like the right moment,” he says during a phone interview from his California home. “And it had to be Vegas.”

Last year’s Shakedown was sharp (Nekromantix, the Warlocks), and attendance passed the 2,000 mark. But this year’s lineup is frickin’ superb—Jersey garage-punk fiends Electric Frankenstein, Seattle hardcore rockers Zeke, reformed ’70s San Francisco power-pop pioneers Flamin’ Groovies. That’s a mere handful of the more than 50 bands—double from last year—slated for this weekend.

Twice as many acts means twice the clubs. Shakedown has expanded from two to four Fremont venues: Azul Tequila, Beauty Bar, Bunkhouse Saloon and Las Vegas Country Saloon. The fest isn’t sold-out, but 2,500 people have purchased passes and booked group-rate rooms at Gold Spike and Four Queens.

So, is Shakedown, which offers rockabilly galore, competing with Viva Las Vegas? Viva, the world’s biggest rockabilly fest, sells out every spring and draws 7,000-plus. “Shakedown is an intimate community,” insists Carrera, despite its estimated attendance of 4,000. “We can’t compete on that level.”

It’d be a real catalyst for Vegas music and culture if Shakedown did compete. If an event of that magnitude kept its bar-crawl roots downtown, the economic and cultural impact of thousands arriving every fall would inevitably lead to more music venues, more shows, bigger audiences and, most significantly, more top-tier bands perceiving our city as a serious market. Attitudes toward our town still need adjustment; something like a grand-scale Shakedown could make sea changes.

So what’s made Shakedown’s reemergence victorious? Nostalgia for the older types of rock music (’50s rockabilly, ’70s power-pop and ’80s punk). Plus, there’s not really any competition for local genre-crossing, pub-hopping events. And as aging punks age further, they’re no doubt going to spend increasing amounts of money to relive the glory days, even if it’s just for a weekend.

For now, though, Shakedown remains a labor of love, not a way of paying bills. “It’s great to know music fans out there enjoy all different rock varieties,” Carrera says. “That’s all I really hope to see.”

Shakedown Standouts

PUNK BANDS OF PROMISE: Since 1991, Clifton, N.J.’s Electric Frankenstein has succeeded in reanimating punk ’n’ roll in the Motor City tradition of MC5 and the Stooges with a Nirvana-esque tunefulness. After 15 albums and several EPs, this band remains incapable of creating mediocre music. My personal, played-to-dust fave is ’99’s How to Make a Monster, but any EF disc electrifies, and the band kills live.

Seattle’s Zeke doesn’t mince riffs, lyrics. Songs such as “Mountain Man,” “Dölphenwülf” and “Chinatown” deliver what the titles suggest—power, speed and aggression. The fest’s heaviest, fastest, loudest band, these brigands will galvanize another proposed downtown noise ordinance. Make sure your head’s ready to be thoroughly banged. Midnight Oct. 14, Las Vegas Country Saloon (425 Fremont St.) with the Bourbon Saints, the White Barons, Flexx Bronco, the Bonitos, Sean Wheeler and Zander Schloss, Custom Made Scare, Zeke and Electric Frankenstein.

RETRO BANDS OF MERIT: Flamin’ Groovies have reformed! This Frisco group honed real punk-inflected guitar-pop for which other bands too often get credit. Do yourself a favor: Listen to “Shake Some Action” via YouTube and you’ll buy a Shakedown pass just to see this incredible band. 1 a.m. Oct. 15, Las Vegas Country Saloon with the Embalmers, the Volcanics, the Hexxers, Muck & the Mires, the Loons, the Hangmen and Untamed Youth.

L.A. psychobilly trio Three Bad Jacks, who play at midnight Oct. 14, at Azul Tequila Nightclub (115 N. Seventh St.), may sound familiar to you. That’s because the band’s dark, delicious songs “Crazy in the Head” and “Hellbound Train” have appeared in video games and episodes of TV shows such as Wet and True Blood, respectively. Once the Jacks get enough steam in their boilers, they’re like a runaway engine onstage.

Oh, and don’t forget about the two Wild Records Showcase Nights, Oct. 14-15 at Bunkhouse Saloon (124 S. 11th St.). Wild Records is an L.A. retro-rock label with a ton of great bands on its roster, many of which play this weekend. Doors open at 8 p.m. both nights.

LOCAL BANDS OF NOTE: Blues-rock revivalists the Lucky Cheats are slated to deal you a hand of sonic aces. This quartet’s secret weapon? Singer/harmonica-blower Jeffrey Koenig. But the Cheats ain’t harp-suckin’, granola-huggin’, tree-chewers (though hippies’ll dig ’em); they’re party-animal Buddy Guy admirers who play down-and-dirty. 6 p.m. Oct. 15, Beauty Bar (517 Fremont St.) with the Plainfield Butchers, Barrio Tiger, The Crazy Squeeze, the Wooly Bandits, Shannon and the Clams.

Fronted by ferocious femme fatale Felony Melony, The Objex excel at lobbing moshpit-inducing Molotov cocktails (“Fun in Funeral,” “Social Disease”) into unsuspecting audiences. The Objex recently released excellent full-length CD Reservations for Debauchery, and the current lineup—James Nasty (guitar), Ivan Brzrk (bass), Ch!li (drums)—is the best yet. The Objex just won a 2011 Vegas Rocks Award for Best Punk Band and signed with European indie label Crownn. 11:30 p.m. Oct. 14, Beauty Bar (517 Fremont St.) with the Scoundrels, No Way Jose, the Triggers.

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On a suburban street in south Las Vegas, behind a closed garage door, Bernie Hamburger is sawing maple wood. There’s sawdust all over the floor, and the subtle smell of glue, or perhaps it’s paint. Hamburger, 59, is hand-making his 229th guitar—and the process is meticulous. “I never mess up,” says Hamburger, who wears stylish glasses and skinny jeans with Vans and a Beatles T-shirt. “The wood is too expensive to mess up. I’m very anal about it.”