September 19, 2008

Neon Reverb Fest a Success

By Jason Bracelin

It began with a series of high fives in a dark room, delivered by a group of dudes beaming like teen boys after one of them had just lost his virginity.

And in a way, a seal had been broken.

It was Thursday night at the Beauty Bar, and Vegas indie rockers The Novelty Act had christened the four-day Neon Reverb downtown music fest with a strong set of dissonant, yet tuneful pop cluster bombs punctuated by bursts of tenor sax and a guitarist who played from his knees at one point.

Afterward, they slapped hands with the crowd to the crash of cymbals, an auspicious start to a big, boozy weekend of music.

Just about all the hurdles that confront a new music fest - incongruous line-ups, conflicting performance times, small crowds, crappy bands you've never heard of - were absent at the debut of Neon Reverb, which benefitted from an excellent selection of acts that often dovetailed nicely with one another and a surprisingly strong draw for an emerging event.

Beginning at the Beauty Bar, the highlights were aplenty, from the enveloping, downcast jangle of Vegas' Close to Modern to the breathy, two-dudes-and-a-drum-machine dance pop of San Diego's Qu'est-ce Que C'Est, whose tunes twitched and throbbed like a series of muscle spasms.

Later that night, L.A.'s Mere Mortals filled the Bunkhouse with thick plumes of dry ice and an even more dense wall of sound, with slash and burn bass lines and guitars that buzzed like a wasp's nest.

Neon Reverb benefitted from a careful attention to detail when it came to matching bands with one another, as popular local acts were matched with rising national bands to good effect, such as on Friday at the Brass Lounge, when Vegas' The Big Friendly Corporation impressed with their keytar-flecked changeling pop, which pivots from bittersweet to climactic, sad-eyed to stirring in an instant, before giving way to L.A.'s The Pacific, who stormed the stage with fiery, hair-flinging rock 'n' roll.

A similarly strong pairing took place at the Beauty Bar on Saturday. Opening the night was Vegas' ceaselessly buoyant Pan De Sal, who taught the crowd some dance moves, leapt into the audience repeatedly and bashed out the hookiest song ever about excessive gasoline consumption.

"If I can't dance, it's not my revolution," they chirped in unison, bounding through bright-hued protest pop you could hum along to.

They were followed by Danish new new wave merchants Turboweekend, whose tunes were powered by economy-sized synth lines and syncopated beats meted out with enough force to be felt back in their homeland.

It was all a lot to take in - haven't even scratched the surface here - with yet another night still to come, but even after four long, liver-strafing days, you didn't really want it to end.

And with another installment planned for next March, thankfully, it hasn't.

Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at [email protected] or 702-383-0476.

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