Can there be such a thing as too much rock 'n' roll? Maybe if you peak out too early.
Last night, the ongoing Neon Reverb music fest had the initial misfortune of competing with L.A. guitar rockers Silversun Pickups and two indie rock bands (School of Seven Bells, Atlas Genius) that had never before played Las Vegas. That potentially large demographic overlap didn't seem to materialize, as the bigger show at the Joint didn't draw huge numbers. And when I arrived at Reverb's Spotify showcase at the Bunkhouse quickly after that concert, everyone I greeted among the large crowd had already been there for a bit. (I recognized all of three people at the Silversun gig.)
A shame more of those folks didn't start their evening at the Joint, if only because they missed a fantastic bill. Atlas Genius opened the affair with the sort of melodic, note-perfect indie rock that easily crosses over onto alternative rock radio and gets tiresome and/or boring after the 15th listening. But while still fresh and relatively new, it's seductive, head-bobbing fare. And the band is supremely confident, both with their instruments and crowd rapport. I suspect they made a few new fans last night.
School of Seven Bells was totally enrapturing. The NYC's largely blissful dream pop didn't have the immediate tunes of its tourmates, nor did it have the natural musical cues that prompt audience participation or reaction. Which was perfect: Its ethereal songs felt like a massage inbetween aural workouts, with just enough soothing atmospherics and kneading rhythms. It played for 45 minutes, and I could have used another 45. Or even just heard the same set again.
Silversun Pickups took off from the first note and didn't let up until its conclusion 90 minutes later. The band had it all: The energy, the precision, the ability to make four musicians sound like six, the confident spaces in between instrumental assaults and vocal segments, the unforced audience engagement, the album tracks that sounded like hits ("Mean Spirits"), the hits that sounded like they hadn't been too overexposed ("Panic Switch," "The Pit"). Silversun Pickups isn't spun much in my private time, but they're always a good show, and, as evidenced last night, they never disappoint. They're the rare band that you first heard and hoped they'd get signed, promoted and supported — mostly because they've got talent that hasn't been tainted by premeditation or pandering.
They also enjoyed themselves. I'm not sure if I believed singer/guitarist Brian Aubert's midshow claim that this was the band's favorite Vegas gig, but I did believe his ear-to-ear smile throughout the show was genuine, and his warmth was well-received by the crowd, which, at times, lost their shit. I literally watched one dude offer his own drunken interpretive dance through the last half the show, increasingly egged on by his neighbors and growing more intense in relation to the familiarity of the song played. A mosh pit (of sorts) broke out during closer "Well Thought Out Twinkles," which looked a little silly, but it reflected the enthusiasm offstage.
The show ended at 11:30 p.m., leaving me only able to cover the post-midnight Reverb/Spotify showcase talent (except for Rusty Maples, which I can't write about as I work with one of the members). I arrived in time for Those Darlins, a surfy cowpunk act from Nashville that exists somewhere between Best Coast and The Clydesdale. The band has got chops and plays assuredly, but neither its tunes nor its performance resonated. Sometimes there was ample style but a weak composition. Other numbers fell flat, barely evoking the lyrical sentiments. And occasionally, the music and performers just didn't rise above the distractions surrounding the outdoor area it was playing.
That environment might've also swallowed up Brooklyn's She Keeps Bees, but since the blues/garage duo played inside to a crowd almost exclusively there to see it, isolated from the barbecue and Spotify bus and socializing scenesters, it scored direct hits with its numbers. The act was also far more visceral, and singer/guitarist Jessica Larrabee — while overly verbose at times — occasionally evoked the intensity of Patti Smith. She could be exacting and controlled during one song, and uninhibited the next. The music itself was generally raw and primitive; flashes of Cat Power and The Kills surfaced throughout the set. Like Those Darlins, style often overshadowed songwriting, but She Keeps Bees had plenty of mojo and force to compensate. I bet the Reverb peeps ask the band to return someday.
By the end of She Keeps Bees' vigorous set, and Rusty Maples' hardly relaxed performance, I was ready for my marathon of a night to end — so I could rest and prepare for another rock 'n' roll endurance test tonight.