JJUUJJUU: Phil Perrone doesn’t so much sing as howl, and he’s got a lot to howl about these days. His Desert Daze music festival keeps growing in stature and scope; last fall’s version drew acclaimed acts like Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Television to Joshua Tree, California, for an expanded, three-day edition.
A highlight reel from the desert fest ran on screens throughout Backstage Bar & Billiards Friday night, during a stop on Perrone’s Desert Daze Caravan tour, featuring five bands on the psychedelic side of the music spectrum. Perrone’s own JJUUJJUU kicked it off with a short but powerful set that demonstrated how far the trio has pushed its pulsating Kraut/psych/space blend even since performing in Vegas last summer, when it opened for The Claypool-Lennon Delirium at Brooklyn Bowl.
JJUUJJUU’s has been relatively quiet on the release front—having put out just four official songs since arriving in 2013—but its Facebook page promises a full-length this year. Here’s hoping it sounds a lot like the mesmerizing music served up Friday night. –Spencer Patterson
The Neon Reverb Cypher (Phil A & Hassan, Late for Dinner, Lil Lavedy, Panamaniac, Jerry Shinefeld, Slump Lords and more): Fittingly, Friday night’s incredibly diverse Beauty Bar bill of rap madness began with a cypher. This wasn’t a cypher in the traditional sense, where multiple rappers tackle familiar instrumentals, though. It was, rather, more of a showcase for Phil A’s Rap Is Fun brand, which books shows and promotes artists with the aim of unifying the local hip-hop scene. It was a concise display of styles and a testament to the talent of the town, from Lil Lavedy’s spazzy cadences on transgender issues in “TransCending” to Jerry Shinefeld’s machine-gun flows over ominous trap instrumentals to Late for Dinner’s Rhymesayers-esque wordplay. Each act performed three or four songs, a perfect way for the crowd to sample local talent. And it was communal, with Shinefeld nodding his head front-and-center during Late for Dinner’s set and Hassan rapping along to Shinefeld.
Phil A & Hassan delivered some of the most memorable moments. The two displayed a chemistry not unlike the Beastie Boys; Hassan’s choppy, humorous punchlines intermingled swimmingly with Phil A’s call-and-response hooks. And though Hassan sported a shirt that read “This town sucks,” he and Phil A summed up the communal vibe of the night by rapping the line, “Too many flavors/Ain’t no way that you’re hating this.” –Ian Caramanzana
FROTH: I’ve spent the first part of 2017 digging through the music of 1991 (long story short: I pick a different year each January and stay focused on it for 365 days as a sort of time-capsule playback). Listening to Froth Friday night at Backstage Bar & Billiards, it felt as though the LA four-piece has been engaged in a similar ’91-centric exercise.
The band’s Reverb set, which concentrated on material from new album Outside (Briefly), evoked swirling dream-pop and shoegaze touchstones like Chapterhouse, Swervedriver and, especially, My Bloody Valentine. It wasn’t terrible distinctive, but there are far worse ways to spend half an hour on a Friday night. Listening to 1991 tunes by Enya and White Lion, for example. –SP
Wheelchair Sports Camp: The Denver experimental-rap trio’s Neon Reverb return was a triumph in every sense Friday night at Beauty Bar: frontwoman Kalyn Heffernan’s incredible charisma (though confined to a wheelchair, she tried her best to hand the microphone off to fans during the boom-bap of “nozone”) and the growing number of heads that entered the venue just before the set began. “Thanks for welcoming us into your awesome, f*cking community,” Hefferman said. “Vegas is always the best time.”
With that, the group launched into its blend of jazz-inspired hip-hop, trip-hop inspired instrumentals and psychedelic experimentation to the forefront. Drummer Greg Zimba proved to be a master behind the kit, whipping up hurricane-like flurries on snares and toms. The trio ended its set with a two-minute freestyle over free jazz. Like shoegaze, it was a welcome wall of sound. –IC
Bash & Pop: From the second this Tommy Stinson-fronted band crashed and banged into its Neon Reverb set on the muscle of “Fast & Hard,” one thing was readily clear: Stinson has waited a long time for this good stuff to happen. After an extended tenure in Guns N’ Roses—longer, even, than he was in The Replacements—he was plainly ready to deliver some maximum rock ‘n’ barroom, and the Bunkhouse received a 45-plus-minute set of it that blew the figurative roof off the saloon. Having never seen The Replacements in their heyday, I like to believe that Bash & Pop channeled them at the top of their game last night.
Blasting through a set largely comprised of songs from the band’s latest album Anything Could Happen (with a brief, blissful detour into The Who’s “The Kids Are Alright”), Stinson and his super-qualified band—guitarist Steve Selvidge (The Hold Steady), bassist Justin Perkins (Screeching Weasel) and Joe Sirois (The Mighty Mighty Bosstones) on drums—were loud, raucous, tuneful and completely on point. No one would have faulted Stinson if he’d swum in nostalgia—play a token Replacements tune, tell some stories—but instead, he played it young and hungry, ripping through “Unf*ck You,” “Not a Moment Too Soon” and “On the Rocks” with footloose and full-throated passion. They even pulled a welcome fast one on the promoters by promising to play “one final song”— “Never Aim to Please”—then segueing into the title track to Bash’s 1993 album Friday Night is Killing Me totally on the fly.
Bash & Pop could have been playing for a group of friends—which, by the end of the set, they were. A number of us crowded the merch table afterwards (“We got T-shirts and f*ckin’ underwear … Well, we shoulda brought underwear,” Stinson joked) and basically thanked Tommy Stinson for coming by to shatter our eardrums and transport us left of the dial once again. It was damned good to see him. –Geoff Carter
Mndsgn: In his Las Vegas debut, producer Ringgo Ancheta brought us right back to his bedroom. Mndsgn’s Beauty Bar set was a hybrid—part live performance, part DJ set. It was one continuous song that took cuts from his Stones Throw debut, Body Wash, and wrapped it in an electronic haze. Ancheta’s hazy, distorted vocals provided a nice contrast to the slow thump of “Transmissonnn,” and he exchanged glances with audience members while hitting the leading melody on keys.
The music served as a backdrop for a dance circle when Ancheta sped things up. During “Cosmic Perspective,” dozens of audience members took turns dancing in the middle of the venue. The array of styles was diverse—breakdancing, pop-and-locking and even crumping. This impressed headliner/labelhead Peanut Butter Wolf, who watched everything from the side of the stage. “This is [his] first time in Vegas, and man, he killed it!” –IC
Temples: If there’s any band on Friday night’s program that best complemented Backstage Bar & Billiards’ psychedelic makeover, it was headliner Temples, a British band whose physical embodiment of the U.K.’s late 1960s and early 1970s music scene might’ve been a bit too on the nose—velvet shirts, crystal necklaces, Marc Bolan ’fros— but its sonic approach expanded beyond the touchstones and constraints of the era’s aesthetic.
Temples were a standout choice for a Neon Reverb headliner, as the quartet seems poised for a breakthrough, timed perfectly to its growth from a nakedly nostalgic rock act to a more dimensional one. You could hear it during the 11-song set, as older numbers like “Shelter Song” and “Keep in the Dark”—both infectious, delightful songs regardless of their derivativeness—were contrasted by newer gems like “Certainty,” the leadoff song on the just-released album Volcano, showcasing the escapist melodies and flourishes of keyboardist Adam Smith, and “Strange or Be Forgotten,” the romantic and rightful closer of both Volcano and Temples’ Neon Reverb main set. To be sure, that contrast was welcome; it demonstrated an increasingly dynamic young band at a pivotal moment of its evolution.
The night’s bonus: An extended and climactic encore of its 2014 song “Mesmerise,” its Krautrockian meditation not unlike those of opener JJUUJJUU and thus cleverly bringing the night full-circle. –Mike Prevatt
Peanut Butter Wolf: The legend’s set began with a sign of appreciation: “I love that there's a place in Vegas where DJs don’t have to play EDM, and where people can just vibe out to good music,” he said. Peanut Butter Wolf, born Chris Manak, mixed classic soul and funk hits from the likes of James Brown and Prince with hip-hop by artists like A Tribe Called Quest and Common Friday night at Beauty Bar. The dance circle was still in full swing during Mana’s incredibly diverse curation of tunes.
Malik even gave the city a sneak peek at Stones Throw’s newest signee—Sudan. The self-taught violinist/singer performed three soulful R&B cuts with tribal undertones (think: a heavier Erykah Badu with strings). It was the cherry on top of a glorious evening. –IC