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Culture, Music


by Matt Vend / 12.12.2014

The open desert road, nothing but black hills and melancholic mountains, brown sand and tiny gaudy shrubs miraculously still alive in the barren wasteland. This is all I see as we roll through the great Nevada Desert. It’s already dark as the bus ride from LA is nearing its final destination. Just a few kilometers outside of Las Vegas everything becomes illuminated by the gigantic hotels and Casinos that make up a large percentage of this bizarrely bustling scene.

I helplessly feel myself being drawn in by it all, it’s like some kind of alluring hell that makes you think it’s exactly what you need until it’s too late and you’re trapped in a lucid terrifying nightmare closely resembling stories, books and movies about renegade icons.

I arrive downtown on a frosty Sunday night and am accompanied through the main ‘strip’ by Hambone and Alyssa, two folk/punk artists based in Las Vegas. I immediately become entranced by the illusion that is Vegas, a contrived mass of humanity, which converges in the desert for the sake of money, greed and good times.


In Vegas, even flying is possible. As I look above my head and comprehend the reality of tourists soaring through the air attached to cables with belts and harnesses as if they were rock climbing on the ceiling. Elvis impersonators, cover bands on stadium size stages, neon lights, strip clubs, dive bars and fancy restaurants. It’s all here baby and everyone is looking for their kicks. Buskers with puppets and gimmicks, outlandish counterfeit monuments such as a miniature version of the Eifel Tower, golden arches, wedding chapels, sleaze and the American dream. Anything is possible here. However it’s all a mirage, a twisted wicked collage yet still a universally fascinating example of capitalism and its blatantly manipulative magnetism. It’s a sight to witness and certainly a cultural phenomenon.


On my second night in Vegas instead of being drawn in by Casino’s and their ability to convince one into believing they are going to strike it big and win. I was magnetically drawn to a tiny art gallery called ‘Wasteland Gallery’ for a D.I.Y donation based last minute musical gathering. The space is really small so it fills up quickly. I’m performing alongside Dear Rabbit again for the third time in a row; this artist is a modern day road warrior. Just before this he was in Canada doing a few shows, then straight after the shows he flew to Oakland, California and just got in his car and drove nine hours to get to this tiny art gallery in Vegas. It would seem that he’s an individual that never stops touring, always looking to see how much further the rabbit hole really goes. With a happy go lucky grin and a solemn sadness lingering beneath it, Dear Rabbit is a true original and a bit of an enigmatic, eccentric songwriting minstrel, a misfit troubadour on a road to nowhere and everywhere.


Caliban and The Witch is arguably one of the more interesting acts that I’ve seen whilst in America. They play folk music which is highly influenced by Doom Metal, which is unquestionably something entirely new and original to my ears. This dark desert rendition of folk uses instruments and utensils such as the washboard, cello, accordion and banjo in ways that are unusual to the genre.

BAND-VEGASThe Rifleman performed after them and Hambone, their singer/guitarist, appears out of nowhere like some wayward, rebel, Saudi Arabian oil prince. His long mousy brown hair, full-bodied mustache and turban, gives off the impression that he might not belong in the Nevada desert. He appears to revel in this eccentricity and he uses his noticeable showmanship to warm the crowd up on a cold desert night.


Into the Forest played after them and they seemed to be the hometown heroes of the show. Dear Rabbit was my personal favourite of the night with his optimistically sombre, road worn stories. His music which is equally upbeat as it is sad appeared to be just the medicine I was looking for.

After the show I drove with Dear Rabbit around Las Vegas listening to atmospheric music as it started to feel like I was in my own renegade movie or book. We eventually landed up at an Ethiopian restaurant with some extremely polite anarchists who bought us vegetarian food. It felt like a slightly fancier and more expensive version of the Ethiopian restaurants back home and it was a welcomed change from ‘American Food’; keeping my old friend Loneliness from knocking on the door with a little piece of home.


I awoke with a sudden realization that I had to plan my escape route out of the desert and back to Los Angeles; the cheapest option on such short notice was the El Paso limousine, which is probably the furthest thing from a limousine. Everyone was trying their utmost to get home for Thanksgiving and the bus was full of screaming kids, families and a really loud Southerner with her wheel chair ridden mother. Naturally the bus left late.

Traveling back through the desert with nothing but tiny ghostly towns in the distance, I couldn’t help but feel deep isolation consume me. Water out there is a mirage, an illusion, a hoax – as unlikely as winning a million dollars at a Las Vegas gambling establishment.

The bus back-dropped me in downtown LA; I could see tents in the streets near the infamous Skid Row area. The Taco trucks were out and that reassured me that walking was safe. I saw helicopters flying overhead but at the time I was oblivious to what they were there for. I waited by a downtown bus stop magnetically gazing upwards, drawn in by spotlights and the jarring sounds of the propellers.

I later read that protests had engulfed the United States over the recent shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson and Los Angeles was one of the cities who took to the streets. Could that have been the reason for the helicopters? Is this a part of the American dream? My thoughts drift away from my own self-indulgent loneliness to sympathy and then only a few days later another incident sparks more protests in New York. It would seem change is in the air and hopefully all the raising of banners will not fall on deaf ears.


*Images © Matt Vend

*Read the next episode of Matt Vend’s American Adventures: DONUT PANIC! and the previous installment RIVER DRIFTERS.

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