2014 Viva Las Vegas Lanark Stage Review!
Rockabilly is more than just a musical style, it’s a lifestyle. The level to which someone expresses this varies greatly. Viva Las Vegas is an annual event where like-minded people come together to express their love of this lifestyle and of course the music. I immediately fell in love with the music from a very young age upon hearing my mom’s Elvis records. Any allowance money I obtained quickly went to discovering more of this music at the monthly flea markets in Louisville, KY. Elvis opened the door for me to discover Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, Dion, Chuck Berry, Johnny & Dorsey Burnette and so many more. Seeing the Buddy Holly Story as a 9 year old sealed the deal for me. While the story was lacking in historical facts, it importantly helped continue my journey to discovering rockabilly, early rock, blues, etc. As an adult in my mid-40’s, the passion is as strong as ever. I do a rockabilly/blues/roots site (www.rockabillynblues.com) as well as host a podcast extension of the site- The Rockabilly N Blues Radio Hour which is available for free on iTunes among other places. I bring up all of this because it’s this passion that connected with me to the fine folks at Lanark Records who asked me to emcee their stage at the Car Show during Viva Las Vegas. Lanark professes to seek out artists that major labels would be scared to sign for fear of not knowing what to do with them. That Rockabilly/Roots lifestyle I talked about is key for fueling a passion and to Lanark it’s a definitely a way of life. Corporate, commercial music is of little interest to them and is exactly why I was drawn to their approach.
If you’ve ever attended Viva Las Vegas, you already know what to expect at the Car Show. Hundreds of pre-1963 (a strict rule for Viva) cars are lined up in the parking lot. It’s a hot-rod lover’s dream! You then find booth after booth of various products that further advance one’s quest to immersing themselves into this lifestyle…clothes, hair products, posters, etc. And then, there’s the music. Oh, is there ever the music! This year there were 2 outdoor stages to see all of your favorites. The main stage provided the attendees with well-known exciting acts like Lloyd Price, Imelda May and The Los Straitjackets. The Lanark Records treated the crowd to their new and legendary acts throughout the day as well and proved to not just be a “sideshow”. Witnessing the entire day from behind the scenes and on their stage introducing each act was a thrill. It was a thrill not only for the fan in me, but to actually see the faces of the crowd that continued to grow larger as the day went along.
The BurliQ’s were the first act of the day and took us back to a style of music heard in burlesque houses in the late 30’s. They wanted to go back to a time just before guitars started to dominate the sound and hence there were no guitars in their mix. To help drive their point home, they asked Cha Cha Velour and the Las Vegas Burlesque Troupe to dance with them on each song. Their sound is all original with the exception of one cover of “Dream A Little Dream Of Me”. The married Country duo of My Darling Clementine (Lou Dalgleish and Michael Weston King) was up next. Hailing from the UK, they brought a great flair of Country/Americana to the mix. One glance at their website and you see some of the artists they’ve worked with…Elvis Costello, Bryan Ferry, Nick Cave, Townes Van Zandt and many more. The reviews of their latest The Reconciliation? have been stunning to say the least. Don’t take my word for it, find out for yourself- www.mydarlingclementinemusic.co.uk. I was immediately struck by not only their charm but their amazing blend of voices. Lanark will be releasing them on vinyl soon which will fit right into the warmth of their music.
The Reach Around Rodeo Clowns have a buzz for a loud and energetic show and they did not disappoint. From the opening riff of “King Of The Slot Car Track”, they commanded the stage and the crowd's attention. You didn’t want to miss a moment of this high-energy set. I like to describe them as “Cash Meets Clash”. Wendell Jones’ vocal delivery has a bit of that Cash flair and the music is a full on assault led by Quentin Jones’ masterful guitar work. They win on every level. The only disappointing thing about their set is that they couldn’t play even longer due to time constraints on each act. Those in the crowd that weren’t familiar with the band before their set probably now own a t-shirt and their latest Rockabilly Deluxe which was available on vinyl for the first time at the event. In fact, I witnessed the very first copy of this wondrous wax being sold to someone rushing to the tent after their set.
The crowd grew even larger in anticipation for The Rockats. I knew of how much of an influence they were to bands like The Stray Cats and others but I was even surprised at how enthusiastic the crowd was as time came for them to take the stage. Upon walking to the mic to start to introduce them, the noise level grew as they knew they were about to witness something special. The band absolutely rocked the crowd with familiar favorites, select covers (including a blistering take on Eddie Cochran’s “My Way” which the band included on a live album in the past) and new tracks from their 2013 reunion project, Rockin’ Together. Quentin Jones also provided additional guitar work along with the band’s Barry Ryan. You couldn’t take your eyes off lead singer Dibbs Preston and upright bassist Smutty Smiff. The crowd roared with every antic they provided. Smutty started the set in a suit and tie but ended the set shirtless laying on top of his upright bass. It was symbolic of the entire band giving everything they had to the set. The crowd flocked to meet these Rockabilly legends after the set and the merchandise was flying off the table!
Tim Polecat was a special guest going on right before Robert Gordon. As I was announcing his name, the surprised and exhilarated looks on everyone gave way to a welcoming roar from the crammed-in crowd. Tim and his band provided a short but memorable 4 song set that included Polecats favorites like their cover of David Bowie’s “John, I’m Only Dancing” and their mega-hit “Make A Circuit With Me”. Quickly, ¾ of The Reach Around Rodeo Clowns were on stage kicking into the opening bars of “The Way I Walk” providing a loud and hard rockin' band to try to match the noise level from the crowd. Robert Gordon strode onstage like a panther about to pounce on his prey. He was in top voice this night despite the dry Vegas weather conditions. The area was packed to capacity to witness this legend. His appeal was far reaching as I witnessed people of all ages singing along and screaming with approval. He ripped through several new songs from his upcoming album, I’m Coming Home with such confidence that you’d swear they were already classics. At one point, Robert brought up The Rockats’ Dibbs Preston to help sing “Low Down Weekend” that he co-wrote with his wife Lisa for Gordon’s new album. I can’t imagine anyone could even hear me asking if they wanted one more song for an encore from Robert due to the noise at maximum level. It was all hands on deck for a rousing version of “Red Hot” which is a cover tune that he first recorded with Link Wray on guitar back in 1977. There was no way to write a more perfect ending to the evening. Robert graciously stayed to sign autographs and take photos with every single person in the long line waiting to meet him and get a first chance to purchase the new project available 2 months early at the merchandise table. After the stage was torn down and the equipment packed away, we finally got a chance to completely soak it all in. What we witnessed was an experience. You can’t plan an experience. It’s not something that is a result from a marketing meeting. It’s something that happens when like-minded people gather and the passion is contagious. Rockabilly may be referred to as a “niche” but witnessing the huge crowd from people from all over the world, you realize how large and passionate this “niche” is. Going to Viva Las Vegas is a lot like the title of Robert Gordon’s new album…I’m Coming Home!