Las Vegas Sound

Does Las Vegas have a -sound-? And if so, what is it?

by Lee Abraham

When someone refers to Chicago Blues, I have a pretty good idea of what theyíre talking about. Same thing with the -Nashville- sound. Or Seattle's grunge, San Francisco's psychedellia or the swampy syncopated backbeat of the New Orleans sound. But a Las Vegas sound?

Although there's been more and more action on the local scene over the past couple of years, there's a long way to go before the rest of the world comes to recognize a distinctive Las Vegas -sound-. These days, with more new original music than ever before, and a handful of local bands getting signed to varying types of records deals, the local scene may soon get pigeonholed into a sound. Thatís if one of those bands takes the nation's airwaves by storm. As we go to press, that hasn't happened.

One thing the local scene -does- have is a massive -pop- influence. While the approach is largely pop, the nice thing is that few of these bands sound the same. In general terms though, here's some of the -sounds- currently on the scene and the bands that are carving their niche. Hard and heavy crunch pop: Johnny Flamehead, Face Down, God Among Men, Ulterior Motives, Pig Named Jodi; groovy and blue pop: Mama Zeus, Copperpot; power pop: Trip, Inside Scarlet, Big Bad Zero, Epsteinís Mother; fun pop: Melancholics, Zen Exit, 12 Volt Sex; acoustic pop rock: Conni Emerson.

There are also a few bands making some great music that has nothing to do with pop. Namely the acoustic soundscapes of The Reunion and Junior Hot Cell, as well as the post-punk-art-rock of Los Trios De Nada, Broken Machine and Bacchanal.

Going out on a limb, soon-to-be-released albums from Mark Huff and the King Cartel, both slated for release this summer, could have a major impact on the outside world's perception of a Las Vegas sound. Nobody writes more songs -about- Las Vegas than Huff. "White Trash Town," and "Downtown," are a couple of his tunes that articulate the neon city experience as eloquently as any songwriter on the scene. As a lyricist, Huff is a gem. The guy's opened for Bob Dylan for goodness sakes. His melodic, well-crafted songs crackle with the sort of sing-a-long accessibility that could ignite a national following with proper airplay.

And then we have the King Cartel. Fronted by Chris King, a talented, compelling and very popular artist in his own right, King's dad is the legendary Las Vegas showroom performer, Sonny King. A neon city native son, King grew up around the Rat Pack. Dean Martin is his god father and performance is in his blood. The Cartel is an eclectic trio with King's signal processed, trippy guitar work and distinctive vocals out in front of a wonderfully bohemian rhythm section. A stunning standup bass and an aggressive drummer who also plays sax give the Cartel a richly textured, yet lean groove that blends tradition with innovation.

Certainly there are other bands with a shot at defining a Las Vegas -sound-. In fact, the field is wide open. Sadly though, the reality is that today, and at least for the foreseeable future, the sound that the vast majority of Americans most closely associate with Las Vegas is the clanging of coins hitting the change tray of a video poker machine.