Music fest full of high notes

It was early Sunday morning, sometime around 1 a.m., and the heat lamps were teeter-tottering to the rhythm, swaying back and forth, back and forth, looking almost as drunk as half the crowd.

Three dudes were up onstage, pounding on some drums with heavy fists, the way blacksmiths might hammer at an anvil.

The night air was crisp on the patio of the Beauty Bar, where Vegas’ Afghan Raiders were meting out some headbanging beats, their punchy electro vibrating through the bodies before them the way an electrical current makes muscles twitch.

Inside, the club was still rain-forest humid after a particularly charged set from local dance pop subverts Pan De Sal, with the crowd banging on tambourines and shakers, blurring the boundaries between audience and performer.

Four days in, the latest installment of the Neon Reverb music festival was in full swing, and once again, it was swinging hard.

It all began March 10 at the Beauty Bar, with some Latin American disco in a dark room.

Throughout the next four days and long nights, a boozy, communal vibe hung about the various venues that Neon Reverb occupied, as throngs of concertgoers took in everything from country to metal.

Speaking of the former, L.A.’s Merle Jagger kicked out some badass bluegrass at the Las Vegas Country Saloon on Friday night.

Though the crowd was spare, Jagger’s instrumental honky-tonk was anything but, with guitarist Mark Christian pistoning his leg into the stage as he soloed hard.

Mostly, this edition of Neon Reverb was full of little pleasures, such as a short, sweet-voiced acoustic performance from former Las Vegan Louise Le Hir, who now lives in Tucson, Ariz., at the Griffin on Friday.

Le Hir was followed by Emma Hill & Her Gentleman Callers, who played as a two-piece and who drove 20 hours from Portland, Ore., to be here. With Hill donning flip-flops and a wide smile, they seemed to dig the ambience of the room. "It’s like the rec room at Hogwarts," the dread-locked lap steel player quipped, before joining Hill in crafting pretty two-part harmonies that dominated their dusky folk.

Not quite as understated, but equally intimate, was a night of superb indie hip-hop at The Bunkhouse on Friday, beginning with the self-conscious rhymes of Evers McGee, who rapped with his eyes closed over dreamy, melodic beats that poured from the laptop by his side.

A few hours later, hard charging L.A. popsters Champions ushered in Saturday morning at the Beauty Bar.

"We used all our gas money in the slot machines," one of them announced, giving voice to the rare loss among five days of small victories.

Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476.

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