For three years now, the Vegoose festival has been bringing Las Vegas the sort of eclectic acts the city normally shuns: metal, hip-hop, politically motivated tunage and indie rock’s latest beloved. This year was no exception: the first day alone delivered Mastodon, Public Enemy, M.I.A. and the Shins. Throw in Saturday night performances by Iggy and the Stooges and Daft Punk, and you might just have the most musically diverse day in Sin City history.
From the start great music was plentiful. Gogol Bordello opened the festival with one of the strongest sets of the weekend. Backed by two percussionist/dancers, ferocious fiddle playing and singer Eugene Hutz’s manic presence, the band won over an audience that seemed delightfully surprised by the band’s gypsy-punk attack. As with many of the afternoon bands, the Vegoose set was only the beginning of their Vegas trip. After performing, the band did a signing in a makeshift Zia Records tent in the Vegoose field, before heading to downtown Las Vegas where bandmembers spun discs at Beauty Bar until 3 AM.
Not everything worked. Bands like the Shins (who wore costumes) and Blonde Redhead (who did not) found their more intricate music bleed away by the acoustics of a vast field and competing bands. Vegoose has three active stages and overlap between sets made it hard to see everything even for the most dedicated fans. Perhaps the biggest disappointment of Saturday was competing sets between Cypress Hill and Public Enemy (who arranged for that?). Still, some of the Cypress audience popped over long enough to join Chuck D for a rousing chant of “Fuck George Bush.” Other of Chuck D’s pronouncements on affairs of State might have been a bit over the crowd’s head: His complaints that the Euro and Pound were kicking American ass ellicited a collective “huh?”
As night descended with dust filling the air from the dirt field, Iggy and the Stooges came out and grandpa kicked ass. Tossing his body, preening and inviting the audience on stage, Pop remains a wonderful freak of nature. With a nearly full moon above and Iggy howling about Halloween bellow the ghost of Lester Bangs must have been happy. Next, Daft Punk proved a popular if anti-climatic finish. Their electronica and stage design don’t impress so much in a city with as many new nightclubs as Vegas. In fact, even the pyramid they play from appears to be a miniature Luxor.
Sunday was a mellower day more focused on jam bands like Moe. This left time to explore oddities like the Impersonators Lounge next to the faux wedding chapels so the “Ozzy Osbourne” on duty could conduct fake weddings. There was also a large Ferris wheel. But the real joy was the Halloween-costumed audience. Hunter S. Thompson managed more than a dozen impersonators, while throughout the crowd angels, devils and witches danced away, mingled and drank.
In this context, Thievery Corporation’s electronica fit surprisingly well amongst the more traditional jam bands. Among the highlights of Sunday was a performance by Muse, who pack lots of British rock drama into its sound using walls of feedback and kinetic motion.
But the main draw on the second day was Rage Against the Machine. After coming out, the band tore into its set, quickly pummeling through “Testify,” “Bulls on Parade” and “People of the Sun.” Tight and impassioned, Rage sound as good now as ever before and certainly better than boots of their Coachella performance. Gone were the political speeches by Zack de la Rocha of that earlier performance; instead Rage let the music do the talking for an abrupt eighty minute set at Vegoose. Of course, it is hard to fight the power when you are performing next to a Ferris wheel adjacent to a gigantic pumpkin head.