The Bunkhouse back with a bang

A few thoughts on The Bunkhouse’s grand reopening Monday:

— At the old Bunkhouse, trying to discern when a given band was actually going to hit the stage was akin to solving a scrambled Rubik’s Cube. You never never really knew when the act you wanted to see was going to perform, you just knew it was going to be late and you were going to need a Red Bull IV drip to make it through work the next day. But on Monday, show headliners Built to Spill began their set at 9:30 p.m. “This is the earliest show ever, ever at The Bunkhouse,” declared singer-guitarist Blair Dewane of openers Rusty Maples.

— Speaking of Rusty Maples, they lived up to the moment with the kind of invigorated, calorie burning performance that’s established them as one of Vegas’ best live acts. The band just goes for it once they hit the stage, kind of like a punt returner once the ball hits his bands. Songs like “Rascal” and “Long Walk Home” from the band’s excellent new “The Western World” EP went from a rootsy swing to a clenched fist, with Dewane swinging his acoustic guitar like a scythe and drummer Max Plenke looking like he was hammering an anvil as much as playing a musical instrument. The band served as a bridge between The Bunkhouse of the past and that of the present. “We were here every other week,” Dewane said before noting with a smile that the venue’s previous owners still owed the band $600.

— As for Built to Spill, they were like an oncoming storm, their songs gradually announcing their arrival with guitars in place of thunderbolts. Their three guitarists, who often played with their eyes closed, meticulously crafted songs akin to towering skyscrapers of sound, and then seemed to relish demolishing them at tune’s end with wild-eyed solos and peals of dissonance. Their 90-minute set spanned much, from curt indie rock singalongs like “Center of the Universe” to the reggae-inspired “They Got Away” to instrumental thrash metal via a cover of Metallica’s “Orion.” “We can make it if we try,” frontman Dough Martsch sang knowingly on “Planting Seeds.” “And if we don’t, it’s gonna still be alright.”

— The show was sold out, but the room never felt overcrowded. The venue itself is a bit bigger, with a larger stage and wide open floor without the booths and chairs that checkered the old Bunkhouse. But the grounds outside have also been expanded, appointed with stools and other places to sit, a pingpong table and headphones that dangled from a tree via illuminated cords. Speakers lined the fence on the north side of the property as well as the entry way in the alley behind the venue, so you could hear the show clearly outside. It made The Bunkhouse feel larger than the 250 capacity club it is.

— OK so now that plenty of comparisons between the old and new Bunkhouse have been made, it’s time to stop likening one to the other. The marquee on Monday may have read “Back from the dead,” but the fact is, this is no zombie/Lazarus Bunkhouse, but a new venue in all but name. And it’s an improved one in just about every way — better sound, roomier interior, more space to hang out outside, higher caliber of bands being booked while still giving Vegas acts plenty of opportunities to play the room. Granted, nothing will replace the memories of the old Bunkhouse for a lot of people. Time to make some new ones instead.

Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at or 702-383-0476. Follow on Twitter @JasonBracelin.