Hot jams highlight Neon Reverb

Heartache or headache?

This was the decision that needed to be made at the Royal Resort at a bit past 9 p.m. Saturday as the latest installment of the Neon Reverb music festival barreled forth into the night.

Outside on a stage constructed in the parking lot, German anti-authority, anti-corporate, anti-pretty-much-everything electronica antagonists Atari Teenage Riot registered like nitroglycerin in human form.

“All governments are murderers,” bellowed frontman Alec Empire, a muscle spasm incarnate, all leg kicks and ceaseless motion, howling over deafening, meat-tenderizing beats of a velocity suggestive of jet propulsion.

Inside, Tulsa-based indie pop trio OK Sweetheart were giving voice to spry, doe-eyed John Prine covers and songs about cold-hearted boys.

Perched at a brightly colored piano in the hotel lobby, frontlady Erin Austin sang in equally assertive and sensual tones, soothing ears ringing from the din outdoors.

These two wildly contrasting moments would encapsulate the Neon Reverb experience if it was something that could be encapsulated.

It can’t.

And that’s what makes this four-day survey of some of Vegas’ best bands, promising new faces and rising national acts so much fun twice a year.

Some highlights this go-round: Prairie Empire at The Beat coffee shop on Thursday, where singer Brittain Ashford held an auto-harp close to her chin, cradling it like an infant, eyes closed, knees pressed together. Over violin and a spare beat, she sang what sounded like lullabies, her voice trembling with vibrato and longing.

On Saturday, at Artifice, locals Shiny Boots of Leather came with some head down, equally fiery and moody jams blistered by fierce harmonica playing.

The evening before, the Beauty Bar hosted an epic show that went past 3 a.m., featuring, among others, the aforementioned OK Sweetheart, a buoyant, big voiced set from Vegas’ A Crowd of Small Adventures and a fine performance by fellow locals The Clydesdale, with frontwoman Paige Overton stomping the stage like she was trying to put out a fire, singing of outlaw dreams in a voice swathed in reverb and regret.

Up the street, at club Azul Tequila, Vegas reggae troupe Tierra Buena conjured some ska-inflected good vibes. This was coed, baggy shorts music, multiracial, multigenre tunes for folks of all races and persuasions to twist doobies to.

They were joined onstage at one point by dreadlocked Vegas rapper HighDro, who fired off some rapid-fire rhymes.

“We ain’t got no problems,” they sang, and their sun-baked sound underscored as much.

It was a fitting sentiment for a weekend where the only real dilemma was the challenge of being in two places at once.

Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at or 702-383-0476.

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