It was the rock ‘n’ roll equivalent of a power surge, a sudden jolt of electricity, the kind that typically results in lots of tripped circuit breakers.
The setting was the Aruba Showroom, full of hipsters and anticipation, in March 2009, for the second installment of the Neon Reverb music festival, whose legs were as wobbly as a newborn colt’s back then.
They wouldn’t be after this night.
It was a defining moment for the event when organ-fired San Francisco trio Leopold and His Fiction took the stage, knocking the crowd on its heels with some seriously hard swingin’ jams that they didn’t play so much as sweat out, coming with a combustible mix of hard-nosed blues, free-form folk, rootsy rock ‘n’ roll and lots of flying hair.
They were only onstage for about 20 minutes or so, but the band instantly established itself as a group you didn’t want to ever miss again when it came to town.
"We’ve been playing Las Vegas for about six years, and that was the entire turning point," Leopold singer/guitarist Daniel James says. "For years and years, we were just plugging away, but then I felt like that was the breakthrough. It all really came together at that moment.
"When we got up there, the stage was like spaghetti with all the wires and stuff, and we were just like, ‘Oh boy,’ " he continues. "We started playing and all that melted away."
Since that gig, Leopold and his Fiction has become a Neon Reverb regular, and as the fest returns for its fifth installment this weekend with Leopold performing tonight at the Bunkhouse in addition to more than 100 acts spread out over venues all over the city, the two have seen their fortunes rise together. "Every show that Neon Reverb is associated with is just getting tighter and tighter," James says. "It’s gotten a lot more organized. They’re doing a really great job of bringing a community together. That’s what everyone’s doing it for, to play for each other. In Las Vegas, what’s really great, is that all I see is bands supporting bands. Everyone is so involved with one another.
"It’s like, you’ve all been waiting for what is happening now for a while," he adds. "There hasn’t been anything off the Strip, a rock scene, for so long. And now it’s finally happening. We’re so excited to be a part of that."
Some other Neon Reverb shows you don’t want to miss:
Crocodiles, today, Aruba Showroom. The title of the Crocodiles’ 2009 debut, "Summer of Hate," is an apt one: This San Diego duo subverts sunny pop melodies with sheaths of angry white noise. Continuing the truth in advertising, the group packs all the bite of their namesake.
Mini Mansions, today, Beauty Bar. They’re fronted by a dude who plays bass in Queens of the Stone Age, but Mini Mansions are more evocative of Liverpool, England, than the SoCal desert. The Beatles-esque trio, which features QOTSA’s Mikey Shuman in its ranks, comes with alternately pretty and punchy power pop suggestive of the Fab Four minus one.
Kid Meets Cougar/Pan De Sal, Saturday, Beauty Bar. These two dance-friendly local acts are as much a part of Neon Reverb experience as weary post-fest ears and livers. Both regulars of the event, Kid Meets Cougar and Pan De Sal anchor Saturday night with equally artful and infectious pop that’s hard to pin down and even harder to sit still to.
Rakaa Iriscience, Saturday, Boomers. As a member of cult Cali hip-hop trio Dilated Peoples, MC Rakaa Iriscience has been building bridges between the mainstream and the underground for more than a decade now. He headlines a stacked lineup at Boomers, the home base for hip-hop on both Friday and Saturday nights of the festival.
The Walkmen, Sunday, Beauty Bar. The Walkmen’s moody, well-heeled rock ‘n’ roll is full of tangents and left turns, from pastoral pop to biting, dissonant jams. They encompass many things, which makes them a fitting final act for Neon Reverb, which does much the same.
See the entire lineup for Neon Reverb at www.neonreverb.com.
Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at jbracelin @reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476.Preview
6:30 p.m. today through Sunday
$20 today and Saturday, $15 Sunday, $55 for all weekend pass, available at the door