ALL PHOTOS BY ERIC RIFE
Not long after the September 11th attacks, FBI memos revealed that Al Queda had targeted several different cities and vacation hot spots in the U.S. Perhaps not surprisingly, Las Vegas was near the top of the list to unleash some manner of terrorist mayhem.
And really, it's not hard to see why; you don't have to be a religious fanatic to see how utterly vacant, how disgustingly fraudulent, how devoid of any substance this place is. It's a gaudy, glittering, surrealistic nightmare of greed, $2.95 T-bone steak specials and aging, totally uncool entertainers. Well, except for maybe Celine Dion who now has her own theater and store inside Caesar's Palace. The mob may be gone, but it's not like the multi-nationals who took over have a better sense of restraint.
These points are obvious and have been made a million times. Let's not forget that Las Vegas can also be a whole shitload of fun for a couple of days. You can drink beer on the streets, buy nunchucks and fireworks and even stroll up to the blackjack table in your bare feet. Ironically enough, it's also the place where you can be thrown in jail for six months for doing bong loads in your hotel room.
Las Vegas is kinda like that fruity wine you discovered in the liquor cabinet when you were thirteen years old. It tasted great, fucked you up in five minutes flat and even though you knew you were going to puke your guts out, you couldn't help but keep slugging away.
That's why the city is the ideal location for the Las Vegas Rockaround; three days of loud garage, rockabilly and raunchy R&B. And what better place to host the show than the Gold Coast hotel and casino, located a mile off the strip? Attendees who were unfamiliar with the place were pleasantly surprised to find the place wasn't a total dump. In fact, the Gold Coast is actually really nice and features two-dollar crap tables, five dollar breakfast buffets and six packs of Guinness for $4.56 in the gift shop. Hell, there was really no reason to hit the strip. Strangely enough, there was no mention of the Rockaround on the Coast's glittery marquee, which only had room to advertise swing dance lessons and cheap eats.
Unlike the Las Vegas Shakedowns of 2000 and 2001, the Rockaround had a definite rockabilly tilt. From the sequined jacketed swing of the Hyperions to the aging Euro-hipsters, the Polecats (remember their MTV hit, "Make a Circuit with Me"?) to always reliable groups like the Paladins, the Rockaround was a Mecca for hypertattooed guys and gals, decked out in all their vintage glory. That was fine for many of the attendees who no doubt flock to promoter Tom Ingram's other rockabilly weekend, Viva Las Vegas. But for those who've attended the Las Vegas Shakedowns (featuring, among others, Zen Guerrilla, Streetwalkin' Cheetahs, Gaza Strippers, the Dirtbombs and other, slightly more mature punk bands), a little bit of bass slappin' and hiccuping vocals goes a long, long way.
To placate those people, a smattering of good, solid bands like the Riverboat Gamblers were added to the bill. The most hyperkinetic of all the bands of the first night, the Gamblers' over-the-top performance set a standard that no one could top... unless you wanted to stay up until 2:00 a.m. to catch the garage punk gods, the Cynics. For those who spent five or six hours driving to get to the show, committing to such an early morning performance was almost out of the question. San Diego's garage punk standbys the Dragons also put on a good show, but if you've seen them once...
The second night's stand out act, the Gore Gore Girls, played to one of the largest audiences of the weekend. Decked out in go go boots, patent leather mini skirts and fishnet hose, the Girls kicked out a scruffy set of fuzzy wah wah rock steeped in the familiar sounds of the Cramps and Hasil Atkins. Along with the Neanderthals who performed the next night, this was trash punk at its finest.
There was no shortage of excellent surf guitar rock as laid out by Los Straitjackets (another band mysteriously relegated to the 2:00 a.m. slot), the Dynotones and the Sin City Surfers. Sets were fairly brief, with a half hour to forty minutes being the average playing time.
But in many ways, the Rockaround belonged to raunch superstars Andre Williams and Rudy Ray "Dolemite" Moore. Williams, who performed the second evening, took the stage decked out in a red suit, complete with epaulets and a yacht cap. When the two old friends weren't on stage, they spent an admirable amount of time sitting at a table in the concessions area, signing photos and LPs.
Then again, the crowd was practically badgered into buying something from the two legends.
"After the show, we'll be at the tables signing albums and posing for photos with you," Moore told the crowd during his introduction for Williams. "So don't be a bunch of cheap MOTHERFUCKAHS! Buy something!"
Williams, who worked as a producer for Stevie Wonder, Mary Wells, Ike & Tina and the Chi-lites, is a man of few, but strong, desires - namely women. After bottoming out in the 1980s, Williams was rediscovered and courted by the likes of Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and the Dirtbombs. A living legend of the sleaziest R&B Detroit has to offer, Williams was the consummate professional, wooing the ladies and imploring the men to treat their women right. From originals like "Pussy Stank" to standards like "Shake a Tail Feather," Williams brought a sense of pure authenticity to a show awash in pale imitators.
Rudy Ray Moore, who appeared the third night, didn't even waste his time walking on stage. Instead, the comic progenitor of rap strolled into the audience, handing out flowers to ladies who caught his eye. As he walked ever so slowly, jewel-bedecked cane in hand, the crowd parted for him until he had carved a comfortable circle for himself. At the risk of sounding overly academic, witnessing a Rudy Ray Moore performance is confounding, hilarious and even educational experience - especially for predominantly white audiences. His signature piece, "The Signifying Monkey" is a classic bit of storytelling illustrating the necessary ability of the powerless to outwit the powerful. One needn't have paid attention to that bit however. Watching Moore get in the faces of buffed out, tattooed guys and asking "What do you do with the pussy?" is hysterical, especially when the target is completely unprepared.
"Uh, um, well, uh?"
"You limp dick motherfuckah! You don't even know what to do with the pussy? What kind of man are you? Where's your girlfriend? Honey, what are you doing with this motherfuckah?!?"