Picking Up the Pace at Vegoose
Like the loud, drunken brays of "BONNA-ROOOOOOO!!!!" running through the grounds of the biggest and best music festival happening in North America over the past few years, I expected to hear such shouts throughout the Vegoose music festival around the Sam Boyd Stadium grounds on Saturday and Sunday.
But, not a peep. Like the rapid pace energy that envelops you the moment you step out of your airliner and into the McCarran Airport terminal and doesn't let go until you depart, happy with a touch of melancholy, on your return flight home, the Vegoose concert fields were filled with people in a rush to make it from one stage to another, ready to catch at least a portion of an artist's set before moving on to the next destination and more musical thrills.
The need to drift and catch live acts like a some-of-this-some-of-that approach used at one of the many buffets available at most of the hotel/casinos in Sin City fills you up, but, like Bonnaroo, leaves you wishing for enough of a break that decisions don't have to be made between The Meters appearing at 4:45 p.m., Trey Anastasio at 5 p.m. and The Flaming Lips at 5:15.
While the Vegas Strip has become an adult theme park with enough neon lights to make the already disoriented think that it’s never nightfall, the area where Vegoose took place became the adult playground. With a good percentage of the crowd wearing all manners of costumes, I couldn’t help but wonder if some of the more elaborate get ups were packed into luggage or acquired in town. Of course, the rest of us who didn’t bother to dress up as Hunter Thompson, referees, Merlin the Magician, a giant Microphone and other creative manners of sight could allow the inner child find satisfaction by riding the Vegoose Ferris wheel, meet and get your picture taken by real live celebrity impersonators (I did with “Liberace” because you can never forget that “kitsch” may not be in the spelling of the city’s name but it’s an integral part of its make up.).
There was also the opportunity to take an even bet on love and have a faux marriage performed with a Mick Jagger, Ozzy Osbourne or Michael Jackson impersonator serenading you down the aisle. And, while it’s not surprising that there was a vending village with the usual spread of t-shirts, gauzy skirts and CD store, it’s worth noting that the weekend’s biggest winners had to be the owners of the Crocs shoe tent and the one selling the straw cowboy hats. With the need for comfy shoes and shade from unexpectedly unmerciful late October sky, both became the unofficial gear of choice.
After attending several years’ worth of Grateful Dead shows in Las Vegas, I’m used to the idea that seeing a show here isn’t so much another road trip but also a state of mind. It makes the experience at the casinos, lounges, buffets and wherever else bleed into the show and vice versa. With the idea of Vegoose events taking place around the Strip on Friday and Monday as well as midnight performances following the Sam Boyd performances made perfect sense.
My credo before my plane touched down on the airport’s tarmac was “Pace Yourself.” I was only half-successful. The music addict in me still regrets not making late night Trey or Gov’t Mule or not being able to have an out of body experience in order to check out the midnight moe. performance on Saturday as well as String Cheese Incident and Robert Randolph and the Family Band.
Matters for me started in Vegoose-related, but not officially sanctioned ways on Thursday, when I attended Cirque du Soleil’s “KA” at MGM Grand. Like other Cirque shows, it was a stunning visual and aural feast, which is how I associate it with the whole jamband aesthetic. With a production that mixed acrobatics, mime, comedy, high wire action, film and an arena size stage that transformed itself, as necessary, into vertical mountain tops and battlefields, it had that mix of elements that unite into something altogether different and special that’s found in many of our favorite jamband artists.
On Friday, I was already committed to seeing Blues Traveler/Carbon Leaf at the House of Blues (another non-Vegoose event that could have been), which by the time it let out made it impossible to go to the Mule at the Joint at Hard Rock Caf
Having seen BT in Cleveland on Oct. 18, I was curious if the group would take things up a notch since it wasn’t invited to the Vegoose party. It was good to see the band again at that Cleveland date but the setlist, pacing and solos didn’t allow for sustained momentum. In Las Vegas, the quintet wasn’t fooling around…at all.
Solos were kept to a minimum, a quick flash of individual talent, which segued into the next song. The whole ran like one lengthy number with breaks being the rarity than the norm. Sure, “Run-Around,” “But Anyway” and “Mountains Win” made the setlist but they filled in gaps between a good dose of material from the band’s newest “Bastardos!.” As for Carbon Leaf, their brand of pop with an occasional Celtic twist cooked up an infectious and refreshing atmosphere.
Shortly after I get to Sam Boyd on Saturday, Steel Train plays the opening notes of the festival on the Jokers Wild Stage. The group’s brand of rock sits well with the afternoon sunshine. Same goes for Islands, which plays shortly afterwards across the way on the Snake Eyes Stage. It was interesting how the promoters set these two areas up. On one day Snake Eyes became the alt-rock performance area with Devandra Banhart, the Decemberists, The Shins and Beck playing while the next it became the place for jamband acts such as Umphrey’s McGee, Ween, The Meters and Jack Johnson. It almost seemed as if the change was a purposeful method of keeping people on their toes in order to keep them moving around and checking things out.
One of the less ideal aspects of Vegoose that’s similar to Bonnaroo is that if you want to taste the musical buffet around you, it’s going to have to be in small bites due to distances from stage to stage and showtimes.
While it’s pretty much a given that what I saw and heard from String Cheese Incident and Gov’t Mule were solid on that day, the two most impressive moments came about as they should, unexpectedly. A recommendation by Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips, Holy F*ck were brought in to play in the Clubs Tent. Consisting of a live rhythm section, and two other members on turntables, keys and effects, the hard driving propulsive electronica it whipped up made my awed reaction a repeat of the band moniker. Later that day, a strong set from Phil Lesh & Friends got lifted even higher when Warren Haynes joined em onstage for what eventually turned out to be a set 30 minutes longer than scheduled.
Due to that I saw a little less of Beck and Primus as originally planned but sticking to the hits for the alt-rock god proved a strong choice for a crowd that was already in the palm of his hand while Les Claypool, Tim Alexander and Larry LaLonde pumped out another exhilarating set that deliciously throbbed around you.
The same joy couldn’t be said for Dave Matthews & Friends. Like his headlining Bonnaroo set, Matthews loose demeanor doesn’t sit so well in a place that’s so big. It’s like he’s got a small theatre mentality as he supplants his solo material with covers while playing with Friends such as guitarists Trey Anastasio and Tim Reynolds, in a football stadium setting. Except for the diehards who cheer at anything that pops out of his mouth, it just didn’t work.
A bit of luck allowed me to avoid the traffic snarl out of Sam Boyd. Instead, I find one going down Las Vegas Boulevard on my way to the Aladdin Casino to catch moe.’s midnight show.
The members came out in costume with Chuck Garvey as a priest, Rob Derhak as a Boston Red Sox player, Al Schnier as Elvis with his angel’s wings, Vinnie Amico as the father in the Incredibles and Jim Loughlin as Anakin or Luke Skywalker (I couldn’t hear the onstage banter when it was mentioned.) What I remember most from that show was an usher, probably in his 50s or 60s telling me how impressed he was with Trey’s show the night before and how he was contemplating making it to his performance the next day. Also, moe. Damn can they play!! As usual, I didn’t dance during the show, not that frequent steady and hard grooves weren’t being created again and again. I just had to sit there and listen and take it all in, the intricate layers and the connected Group Mind that’s on display. It’s impressive enough from them (and numerous other jamband acts) that I wished that I could suddenly materialize scores of family and friends around me in the hope that they’d hear this and become enlightened.
Some rest was had. And as I predicted, breakfast of something substantial became a quick Cafocha with a shot of caramel down at Java Java because I slept in. I sensed I needed the extra rest, and it turned out I was correct.
Back at Sam Boyd.
Immediately I’m torn. When is the jamband world going to wake up and realize the uplifting of your spirit that happens when Michael Franti & Spearhead perform? Second thought. It’s nice that there’s a fairly, but not overly, big cult of people getting our groove on so early in the day to Franti & Spearhead’s brand of funk/reggae/hip-hop/rock. He stole the show when I saw em at BIG Summer Classic (as good as everyone else was) and pretty much did the same on Sunday.
Sleater-Kinney and The Magic Numbers pretty much lived up to all the advanced praise and neither let me down. While the former rocker hard, the brother/sister combo of the Numbers just set a beautiful tone to start off the Jokers Wild Stage.
moe. get enough rest for another strong display of musicianship when it plays the Double Down Stage (a.k.a. main stage). And it’s just good to hear Ween playing its brand of anything goes brand of warpness. The Meters get together and remind us that New Orleans won’t be the same but it will be special because of the people who inhabit its city limits.
Wayne Coyne takes a “stroll” among the Flaming Lips crowd on his see-through beach ball. He should patent that thing because it could become the next thing in crowd surfing. Soon, he’s back onstage with his bandmates bashing out a familiar but enjoyable set (“Fight Test,” “She Don’t Use Jelly”) with a couple new tunes thrown in including a triumphant cover of “Bohemian Rhapsody” with his prop arsenal of Hulk Hands, confetti and mammoth-sized balloons.
I received a copy of Anastasio’s latest, Shine, in the mail just before I headed for the airport. When I listened to it, I noticed that not only did the songs sound much tighter but his guitar tone had changed. I wondered where he’d take this material. And it was apparent that he really wanted to rock out, especially noticeable on the “Come As Melody,” which went on and on with the band clearly enjoying the raw power they were putting out.
All I can say about The Arcade Fire is if it wasn’t for Widespread Panic coming on I would have stayed because the Montreal group was overwhelmingly impressive from the start – musically and visually. WSP didn’t cause me to regret that decision. The band’s used to the headlining spot thanks to several appearances at Bonnaroo, and it showed. The songs had extra drive with John Bell resting in a zone of his making and Dave Schools playing deep lines meant for the upper reaches of the stadium.
My experience in the world of Vegoose didn’t end with the final notes from Panic. Instead, I was one of the lucky ones to make it in the Phil Lesh & Friends midnight show at the Joint at Hard Rock CafMade it through the door just as the band was taking the stage. Highlights came quickly with Lesh being especially spirited and active, giving directions, moving around a lot, and generally enjoying this moment. It was a history making time with three sets, which didn’t end til 5:05 a.m. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to make it through after the second slow number of set three but the surprise appearance of the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” woke everyone up and tugged us along for the final rush of sounds.
Monday brought about another satisfying experience with Widespread Panic when it played a headlining date at the Thomas and Mack Center.
It was at this point that my mind and body knew that my time at Vegoose was over. And that was when the “system” began to shut down for some much needed rest and relaxation, as if that’s possible in the land that housed Vegoose.
A note on the festival’s website offers a “thank you” to those who attended and helped with the “first annual” Vegoose. I don’t recall the “annual” being mentioned prior to this. If that’s the case, I’ll be booking my flight and hotel early, hoping that I’ll ignore that “pace yourself” mantra in my head and just run completely on Vegoose time before I make my way back to civilization a few days later.