Amid casinos and cactus, a new musical sound evolves

As Las Vegas grows, the strains of lounge music give way to musical innovation, and major record labels are taking note.

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Seattle had grunge, Southern California had punk rock, and Miami had a Latin explosion. Now the self-proclaimed Entertainment Capital of the World, Las Vegas, is emerging with a sound all its own. It's part Wayne Newton, part Rage Against The Machine - a predominantly hard-rock sound, or pop rock with a rougher, louder edge.

The emergence of a possible new musical genre here amid the neon and mesquite is another sign that as Las Vegas grows, its culture is broadening far beyond gambling, stage shows, and Buddy Hackett.

The music scene here, while drawing some of its character from hotel acts, has evolved from the fringes, moving from suburban garages and makeshift stages in the desert to local clubs. Bands are sprouting up almost as fast as subdivisions. Where there were once showrooms and lounge revues, today there are bands doing original music.

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Many cities, of course, have their own indigenous bands and sound. But Las Vegas's is now growing fast enough and capturing enough attention that it could transcend its desert boundaries to become a distinct new voice.

The sound is being born in places like the House of Blues Las Vegas, which regularly features local bands such as Inside Scarlet, Epstein's Mother, Home Cookin', and Big Bad Zero - on the same stage graced by the likes of Bob Dylan, Garbage, and Sheryl Crow.

And the annual Billboard Music Awards and EAT'M battle-of-the-bands contest, scouted by record producers, has put local talent in the national spotlight.

Robby Klostriech, manager of the local band Phatter Than Albert, remembers a time not long ago when record-label producers were skeptics, not eager scouts. " 'How could there be a music scene in Las Vegas?' they'd say. 'After all, it's Vegas - home to schemes and scams and gamblers.' Now the industry is looking at us differently," he says. "We won't go away."

"Ten years ago there wasn't enough action here," says Dan Trinter, president of the Musicians Union of Las Vegas. "Once [Clark County] hit a million people, the number of bands increased proportionately."

The rise in musical innovation has been paralleled by Las Vegas's growing prominence in visual and performing arts. And as the city basks in a new artistic aura, it is viewed by major music companies as "a viable ... market for new, original music," says Michael Prevatt, arts and entertainment editor for City Life. "At least five major record labels [are] keeping their eyes on Las Vegas."

Big Bad Zero recently signed with Eureka Records. And Phatter Than Albert is talking to a couple of national record producers, Mr. Klostriech says. "It's a diverse Vegas sound," he says. "You can go out any night of the week and listen to blues ... rap ... or heavy rock."

But the new sound is underpinned in part by ties to the lounge tradition. Many local musicians play in casinos to make ends meet until they land big music deals.

Take the band Mama Zeus. "On the side, two of these guys have really well- paying jobs in casinos as musicians," says Rudy Jalio, owner of Legends Lounge, which books both local and national bands.

"The money on the Strip [$2,300 to $4,000 a week] can be very alluring," Mr. Jalio says. The lounge sound, meanwhile, contributes to a diverse style that sets Las Vegas apart from other cities. "This is pop culture at its best," Jalio says. "It's the latest, greatest trend here."

"This city is rooted in a pop-culture mind set," Mr. Prevatt agrees. "But it's still in its toddler stages, and we can't brand it as anything yet."

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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