Electric Daisy Carnival, other music fests highlight busy year

It was like doing a cannonball into a reservoir of light, sound and flesh.

Dance music monolith the Electric Daisy Carnival proved to be an immersive experience when it made its Las Vegas debut last June, three days of outsize beats, crowds and production budgets.

The EDC engulfed the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where more than 200,000 revelers, some dressed as cartoon characters, some dressed as superheroes, some barely dressed at all, swarmed around six stages, surrounded by mammoth, flame-spitting art installation pieces, brightly illuminated carnival rides, stilt walkers, roving pirate ships crawling with scantily clad hotties and just about anything else that could be conjured by the most far-out fever dream.

The EDC is the biggest event of its kind in the country, if not the world, and its premiere here after more than a decade of being centered in the L.A.-area further solidified Vegas as the dance music capital of America.

The EDC coming to town was easily the most significant development in the Vegas concert market in 2011, but it wasn’t the only high-watt festival that impacted the city.

There also was the two-day iHeart Radio Music Festival, dubbed the biggest radio concert event ever, which took over the MGM Grand Garden arena in September, boasting such pop prime movers as Lady Gaga and Jennifer Lopez, country kingpins Rascal Flatts and Kenny Chesney, hip-hop pacesetters Jay-Z and Nicki Minaj, and rockers Coldplay and Jane’s Addiction, among others.

The shows, which were tied in with the launch of the iHeart Radio application and website, which allow listeners to tune into radio stations from across the country, spanned four to five hours each, and were a who’s who of pan-genre acts that have the airwaves in a headlock.

Those two fests were tops in terms of star power, but there were other multiday extravaganzas that were among the highlights of a busy year in concertgoing. The annual Punk Rock Bowling festivities had their most ambitious outing yet, moving downtown and seriously ramping up the level of acts.

Taking place outdoors across from the El Cortez, along with a slew of after-hours club shows, the three-day party was a boozy blast, with scene granddaddies such as Stiff Little Fingers and Cock Sparrer, pop punk greats the Descendents, beers-in-the-air sing-alongs courtesy of the Dropkick Murphys and high-impact sets by Agnostic Front and the Dwarves, which registered like crowbars to the teeth.

Another must-see event was the twice-a-year Neon Reverb fest, which also is centered downtown and takes place in the spring and late summer.

In 2011, Neon Reverb continued to evolve with headliners such as a mesmeric The Dodos and electronic pugilists Atari Teenage Riot, combined with the best local talent via A Crowd of Small Adventures, The Clydesdale, Dusty Sunshine and many others.

If said festivals brought a flurry of bands to town, so did the opening of The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, which led to three new music venues.

The 4,000-capacity Chelsea Ballroom hosted a knockout performance by Adele, a combustible two-night stint from the Black Keys and the first U.S. show of 2011 by The Strokes, among plenty of other gigs.

The Boulevard Pool offered some sweet views of the Strip from the fourth floor of the Cosmopolitan, as well as shows by such notables as Flaming Lips, Death Cab for Cutie and Brandon Flowers, while the novel Book & Stage lured the likes of the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Best Coast to town for free, multinight sets.

Elsewhere, the year was powered by fantastic shows by reunited rockers such as grunge greats Soundgarden at The Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel in July, square peg metallers System of a Down at The Pearl at the Palms in May and stoner rock forebears Kyuss Lives! at the House of Blues in October.

There were plenty of big-name thrills (Paul McCartney casting a spell over at the MGM Grand in June; Rammstein setting the Thomas & Mack Center ablaze in May; Jay-Z and Kanye West tag-teaming the MGM Grand in December; Arcade Fire turning in a positively triumphant performance at The Joint in April), balanced with smaller pleasures (tons of great DIY shows at small venues such as Yayo Tacos, Meatheads and Boomers; the return of riff rock marathon Doom in June at the Cheyenne Saloon and gore fiends Exhumed wielding chain saws at the same venue in August).

One of the very best shows of them all was the Vegas debut of country rock firebombs the Drive-By Truckers, who played here for the first time in their 15-year career at the Silverton in March.

Their slow simmering set eventually reached a crescendo of awesomely overamped Americana — or maybe it was just all the whiskey the crowd was guzzling finally kickin’ in.

The Truckers ended the show with a vehement thrashing of Van Halen’s “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love.”

They might not have been talkin’ ’bout it, but nine months later, we still are.

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


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