It’s Wednesday night in the backroom of The Griffin and The Study Band is setting up. Since becoming the resident band at The Griffin one night a week for the past two and a half months, the group has been able to carve out a name for itself despite the fact that its members, Eric Morelli and Jack Roberts, have been Las Vegas residents for less than a year.
For the opening song, Morelli is the only member on stage, and he starts things off perched behind the keyboard and singing a solo. As the show progresses, Roberts appears, taking over the keyboard as Morelli picks up a guitar and takes his place behind the mic followed by the night’s guest drummer.
Clean cut in black button-up shirts, the band’s subdued vocals resemble a mix between Death Cab for Cutie and The Good Life with a dash of Damien Rice. They’re composed and completely absorbed in the music, glancing only at each other between songs. Onstage movement is limited to an occasional toe tapping from Roberts and Morelli’s instrument switching.
“There’s so much going on inside that head!” muses one audience member as she watches Morelli belt out the last song. “His stage presence is kinda hot,” chimes in another, observing the occasional hip sway. The show wraps-up quietly, ending the night on a reserved note. It’s the Griffin, after all, we’re not here to rage.
Fast forward to Thursday night.
Inside the Thunderbird Lounge at the Aruba, a line-up of electronic music is about to begin. The main light on stage is radiating from a gapping-mouthed jack-o-lantern, and Jack Roberts is on stage fiddling with a laptop positioned atop an ironing board. He has traded his button-up for an all-white outfit accessorized with a black Batman and Robin-style eye mask. He looks like a makeshift superhero, last night his alter ego.
As the music starts two guys enter the lounge area, one with his head entirely wrapped in duct tape, twirling around in a neurotic tribal dance and banging sticks on the ground. Morelli enters behind them, dressed also in white with the lower half of his face covered like a bandit.
The threesome is the Study Band, but tonight they are going by a different name: Neon Death Ranger. This relatively new side-project, currently composed of only four songs all written from the perspective of a serial killer, is a far cry from The Griffin’s new house band.
Firecrackers, staged to look like gunshots, are ignited from inside the shirt of one band member as he appears to spasm on stage. The once white outfits get progressively bloodier as the band’s coordinated wrestling match causes fake blood packets hidden underneath their clothes to burst. They spit on and fall over one another in an ecstatically violent musical orgy, but the only real casualty is the pumpkin who gets thrown off the stage and scatters into pieces across the floor. By the end of the show the band, dripping with sweat and artificial blood, takes a sweeping bow. One shell-shocked audience member who opted to stand a few feet back from the stage in fear of looking like a murder victim exclaims, “They’re crazy mother fuckers!” And another sums up the act as “the Blue Man Group of indie bands.” Maybe if Dexter was their manager.
As for which is the real face of Morelli and Roberts – maybe a little of both. “The Study [Band] is our passion,” explains Morelli. “Neon Death Ranger is the outlet, the polar opposite. It’s the reaction that you have to taking something very seriously.”
Their future will be a hybrid between The Study Band and Neon Death Ranger, an intriguing concept all by itself. As Roberts puts it, “Plan on nothing, but expect everything.”