Neon Reverb shines bright in downtown Las Vegas

It wasn’t just the band on stage exuding an air of triumph, it was the room itself: totally packed, sold out, the P.A. battling the lungs of the capacity crowd singing along.

Maybe only a 2010 gig from The Walkmen rivaled The Drum’s Thursday night set of shout-it-out indie rock at Backstage Bar & Billiards as Neon Reverb’s biggest show thus far.

It was a cool moment in a hot space, the warmth generated by so many bodies in close confines. As frontman Jonathan Pierce shimmied around taut guitars, countering terse rhythms with Gumby limbs, it felt like a transitional moment, Neon Reverb entering the next stage of its development.

This year’s Neon Reverb wasn’t without its issues, namely the last-minute cancellation of the Raw Femme showcase scheduled for Saturday afternoon because of a lack of proper permits. Still, there were plenty of highlights nonetheless.


Here’s but a few:

The most “far-out, man” blend of audio and visuals: The Desert Daze Caravan

The tunes were rooted in the ’60s, and so were the visuals: a trippy liquid light show straight out of a vintage Jefferson Airplane live clip. At Backstage Bar & Billiards on Friday when the Desert Daze Caravan tour took over the place, a trio of dudes worked in unison to create this old-school effect, the perfect, perception-warping complement to a fantastic lineup of bands charting the topography of psych rock’s lunatic fringe.

How stoner-rific were the Kraut-rock-informed, ravine-deep grooves of Jjuujjuu? During the band’s set, I grew a beard and failed a drug test just watching by them play. Fellow Los Angelenos Froth blazed amps with a wall of sound that was less Tangerine Dream, more Smashing Pumpkins, while Night Beats ratcheted up to the intensity until the heightened temperature of the room was palpable, a fever pitch with a fever’s heat.

People power

We’ve all heard of heartland rock. But what do you call earnest, working-class rock ’n’ roll from these parts? While we’re figuring out a name, The People’s Whiskey has figured out the sound. Yeah, the Henderson-born band has been around for a while, but it played a handful of new tunes during its Bunkhouse set Thursday, and they were pretty great: hook-heavy and heartfelt, this was the sound of a veteran band digging deep and coming up with something as strong as its namesake.

Rap Is Fun

“Gimpin’ ain’t easy,” pronounced the little person with the big grin, rhyming over beats generated by a laptop positioned atop a milk crate at her side. Kalyn Heffernan, frontwoman for Denver’s Wheelchair Sports Camp, delivered her words with such velocity that they occasionally blurred together, like the scenery outside a fast-moving car. She had strong — albeit friendly — competition on this night, though, with various members of Vegas’ Rap Is Fun crew holding court at the Beauty Bar on Friday before she hit the stage. There was the needle-voiced Panamaniac, the frantic, outre rhymes of Late for Dinner and the ace pairing of Hassan Hamilton and beatsmith Phil A.

“We doin’ our own (thing),” Hamilton bellowed at one point. “Nobody put us on. No disrespect to the other festivals, but this one is ours. ”

That’s as good an encapsulation of Neon Reverb as any.

Read more from Jason Bracelin at Contact him at and follow @JasonBracelin on Twitter.

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