Boy, when there's silence at The Boulevard Pool at The Cosmopolitan, you really hear it. And while it’s weird to say, you don’t hear those silences when a national band plays. The Shins' James Mercer tells a funny little story about fatherhood and if the keys aren't ready yet, maybe an adorable quip about marriage. Wayne Coyne talks about how happy he is to be playing for you and what happened last time he was in Las Vegas and now the guitars are tuned so let's go!! There is no lull. No pause. No opportunity to look around or check your messages.
But Vegas bands pause. Dude City's Jack Johnson pauses. The Map Caps' Ted Rader lets you check your messages. And maybe that was the most detectable difference we saw Thursday evening, when these local (and honorary local) bands scored their own night at the Cosmopolitan's new BLVD Social Club promo at the rooftop pool.
The above-sentence smatter shouldn't imply hard feelings. Both bands were on point last night. Dude City, with its American flag backdrop, its cowboy-hatted drummer, its frontman looking his most Springsteeniest, stayed tight and inspired a "shit yeah, man!" or two from unfamiliar faces. You haven't heard "Technology" until you've heard it coming from 10 speakers, each the size of an 8th grader. And you could actually hear every note of the song, every instrument, clearly and distinctly — the opposite of the usual insegregable spaghetti bowl of fuzz elsewhere.
And The Mad Caps, caked in an only half-metaphorical grime from the move to Seattle, played with a fervor we don’t really see in Vegas bands any more: just two guys on a big open stage, looking comfortable and uncalculated, like they’re supposed to be playing the poolside stage of a multibillion-dollar resort.
They played their hits, of course. “Rosie and the Wolf Man.” “Tube Top.” “Babyman.” They sounded fantastic; it was like listening to that recording they did in Johnson’s kitchen a year back. “This is a lot different from The Bunkhouse,” Rader says during one of those near-deafening pauses.
That comment provokes deeper thoughts about the whole affair. Dude City somehow looked small, physically. They were recessed back, almost hugging the rear wall, which was a good 12-20 feet from the front line of the audience. And it’s hard to create much physical presence when you combine that with musicians who don’t tend to run all over the stage anyway. But The Mad Caps, despite being two men, looked full and rounded out. Why? Is it because Jon Realmuto plays every drum hit like its his last cymbal crash? Because guitarist/vocalist Rader’s greasy hair gleams brighter than his plated pick-ups, bears down and consumes his microphone like carrion beetles to a fresh carcass?
You think back to the national bands on this stage. They always look like they don’t have enough room, like the stage should be twice the size for them to avoid claustrophobia. But during this show, you see where the size illusion of these nationals takes precedent.
It’s little things like that which make a crowd member stand back and realize this is, at its core, still a local show. It’s bigger things, too, like Rader holding up the show so everyone can watch Dude City’s Mike McGuinness run from behind the stage to the far end of the pool (let’s call it 40 yards) to do a belly flop in front of what now looks like 200 people.
But there was something special, toward the end of the show. Not just the minutes of soloing that included harmonica, a drum set duet and Dude City’s James Adams running onstage to help sing. It was when Rader, preparing to close the show, says, “Thank you guys. I love Las Vegas.” And unlike any other show we’ve ever seen on the Boulevard Pool stage, we believed it. And it was one of our favorite shows on that stage to date -- silences be damned.