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Neon Reverb report: Moonface and A Crowd of Small Adventures

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Moonface’s Spencer Krug, playing Beauty Bar Saturday night.
Photo: Bill Hughes

The clock read 4:04, and Moonface’s guitarist and keyboardist were still at the El Cortez bar early Sunday morning. And Spencer Krug? The band’s leader was no doubt in his hotel room, rubbing ointment on his chest.

A couple hours earlier, the ex-Wolf Parade man performed a Neon Reverb set at Beauty Bar that could best be described as profound. Backed by three members of Finnish group Siinai and former Wolf Parader Dante DeCaro on bass, Krug poured his being into his music, using his distinctive voice to squeeze tension and emotion from 10 original songs and a surprising cover. And when he needed still more, the Canadian songwriter beat his tambourine against his chest—hard, again and again.

The show benefitted from Grade A sound—as in, it might have been the best-sounding Beauty Bar performance of all time—so Moonface’s touring sound man deserves a share of the credit. But most of the sizeable back-patio crowd will probably remember: 1. the heavy-pounding mallet in drummer Markus Joensuu’s right hand, 2. guitarist Risto Joensuu’s serious expressions as he filled up the space in Moonface’s music with hypnotic white noise and 3. Krug, who closed his eyes as he took lengthy cuts like “Quickfire, I Tried,” “Faraway Lightning,” “Headed for the Door” and the title cut off April’s Heartbreaking Bravery to epic heights well beyond their album versions.

And, of course, those who stuck around past 2 a.m. aren’t likely to forget Moonface’s set-closing cover of The Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody,” dedicated to Krug’s parents, who were, strangely, in attendance. (They’re in the midst of a West Coast vacation, and the Vegas show happened to sync up with their schedule, he explained during a post-show conversation.)

“This will be tough to follow,” Mike Weller of A Crowd of Small Adventures whispered in my ear, and he wasn’t entirely wrong. The locals didn’t have their own sound man, nor did they get a full soundcheck, and at least a third of the crowd exited after Moonface finished. But those who stuck around witnessed the launch of a significant new chapter in the life of one of Las Vegas’ very best bands.

ACOSA, which hadn’t played a show since last fall’s Neon Reverb, debuted a six-piece lineup, featuring new rhythm section Kevin Oakley (bass) and Tony Sermeno (drums), along with a new (albeit short) six-song set of songs, half of which had never been performed in public.

The band showed signs of rust—one song was delivered at an uncomfortably fast tempo, for example—but also demonstrated power previously only hinted at in the live show. Jackson Wilcox’s songwriting has developed considerably during the hiatus, with the sunny pop of his past now replaced by stirring sheets of layered rock. Anyone who claims their skin didn’t tingle during the group’s new mid-set ballad either wasn’t paying attention or needs a heart transplant.

Weller, the band’s drummer since Day 1, slid comfortably into a guitar-and-vocals role, contributed an old Hungry Cloud tune (the show-closer affectionately known as “The Balls”) and returned to his old drum seat for “Fast Travel,” the lone holdover from 2010 album A Decade in X-Rays. Violinist Megan Wingerter and guitarist Sean Villaros, meanwhile, peppered the music with the nuanced flavors that make ACOSA shows a unique experience on the local scene.

If you missed it, don’t freak out. A Crowd of Small Adventures plays again Saturday, September 22, at the Dillinger’s one-year anniversary Block Party in Boulder City with Rusty Maples, The Clydesdale, Same Sex Mary, Dude City and more. Drive down, or risk missing more cool Vegas-scene happenings.

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Spencer Patterson

Spencer Patterson is Las Vegas Weekly's Managing Editor, having previously served as Arts & Entertainment Editor, Music Editor and a ...

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