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Neon Reverb report: The fest goes to bed early

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Milk Music, performing Sunday night at Beauty Bar.
Photo: Bill Hughes

How different has this week’s Neon Reverb been from past editions? The Downtown music festival’s final showcase finishes around 11:30 p.m. Sunday night, the scheduled start time for headlining band Milk Music. “My mind is blown,” organizer Jason Aragon says of the night’s brisk pace, which sees six bands toggle between the Beauty Bar’s indoor and outdoor stages.

The show begins so early, I miss the first act, Portland’s The We Shared Milk. I arrive around 7:30, as Rusty Maples launches into its set on the back patio. The five Las Vegans pulled back into town around 9 a.m. this morning after a tour that saw them play 15 shows in 16 days, including seven at South by Southwest. Playing to a solid crowd on a crisp spring night, Rusty sounds like a band that’s been road-tested—tight and confident—and they’re headed back out again soon, for a tour that will have them loading and unloading their red 15-passenger van at venues throughout May and June.

We head inside for And And And, a Portland band whose unpredictable rock tunes provide a nice contrast to Rusty’s sunny pop. One moment And And And sounds like Pavement, the next like early Will Oldham, and then like a band on the Woodsist label. It’s all pretty interesting (trumpet! cello!), but a bit hard to grab on to, especially given the condition of singer Nathan Baumgartner’s vocal chords. He calls being sick in Las Vegas “one of the great tragedies of my life,” and promises his voice “sounds like a voice” on the records for sale at the merch stand.

Outside, Julie Ann Bee, the leader of Sea of Bees, is comparing her hometown of Sacramento to Las Vegas. “We have trees,” she says, glancing around the cement-rimmed alleyway. Indeed, Bee’s bright, folky pop seems better suited for greener spaces and perhaps daytime, but after a mellow start her five-piece’s set gains momentum and the crowd responds. The songs’ most interesting moments occur when Bee moves into her upper register, which reminds me a bit of Kate Bush.

Gun Outfit

Gun Outfit

Olympia, Washington, quartet Gun Outfit moves the action back inside, where they impress despite a rough sound mix that makes it tough at times to make out the male and female vocals. The band opens with a rootsy country-rock vibe reminiscent of Crazy Horse-era Neil Young, then turns sharply and digs into the sort of spacey jamming Stereolab fans might like. The set is short but intriguing, so much so that I pick up an advanced copy of April album Hard Coming Down from the band afterward to investigate further.

The hotly tipped Milk Music, also from Olympia, revs up at 10:50 outside featuring drums, fuzzed-out guitars and chunky basslines. Frontman Alex Coxen looks and acts like a rock star, announcing that he and his three mates are here to “rock for your party” (twice), and he backs up his bravado. Sometimes he and Charles Waring double their guitar leads, sometimes they weave around one another, but always—always—they go big and brash, unashamed to break out moves some say went out in the ’70s. Musically, it’s powerful, sounding something like Dinosaur Jr. or Mudhoney, but after a while the songs start to feel a little bit same-ish. When Milk Music ends its last number, a few voices call out for one more, but it’s clear Neon Reverb has already ended, earlier than anyone could possibly have predicted.

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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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