Thursday, 5 May 2011

Las Vegas Grind! Viva Las Vegas 2011

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Viva Las Vegas 2011 seemed to go by a blur! Maybe that’s the reason I took less good photos than usual. Less of my American friends went this year, which was a bit of a letdown. I caught brief glimpses of Satan's Angel and Dean Micetich of DiCE Magazine (aka the artist formerly known as Kid Rocker) but then never saw them again for rest of weekend. Missed Sweetpea’s Hootch and Smooch warm-up party on afternoon of Thursday. Didn’t make it into Double Down Saloon or Atomic Liquor and Cocktails (my two favourite Las Vegas dive bars. In fact Jim and I did make a special trek to go to the Double Down Saloon, but I neglected to bring my passport and the bouncer on the door wouldn’t let me in because I didn’t have ID to prove I was over 21! At my age!). Didn’t catch Big Elvis's lounge act this year (a sacrilege!). Didn’t catch either the burlesque showcase or the burlesque contest, even though my friend Sarah (aka Slinky Sparkles) was a contestant in the competition (the long queues to get in to both were extremely off-putting). Where the hell did the time go?!

Sarah and Jim Airport
After about a grand total of twelve and a half hours in an airplane, Sarah and Jim were gasping for a cigarette by the time we arrived in Vegas

Sarah and I
Sarah and I at The Orleans. Note her Vivienne Westwood handbag. It's genuine

The highlights: Caught some great bands. Pachuco Josey y Los Diamantes. The Modern Don Juans. Los Straitjackets. Los Tiki Phantoms. (Yes, the future of rockabilly is Latino!). After Chuck Berry’s creaky and underwhelming performance in 2010 (Jim and I left after watching only three or four songs), I was wary of headliner Jerry Lee Lewis but the 75-year old rockabilly legend was in great voice and on stately / majestic form (even if he didn’t sing “Breathless”, my favourite song of his).

Jerry Lee Lewis Close-Up
Closest thing I could get to a close-up of Jerry Lee Lewis performing at the car show

Meeting Mistress of the Dark Elvira at the car show involved queuing in the baking sun for about 35 minutes and then buying wildly over-priced merchandise for the privilege of having my photo taken with her – but was well worth it to meet one of my teenaged idols. Elvira (aka Cassandra Peterson) was gracious and charming, and the woman is an ageless icon, revered by punks, rockabillies and Goths.

Elvia and I
Elvira and I

Elvira Close-Up
Close-up of Elvira: the photo is even better with me cropped-out!

Tempest Storm
Flame-haired veteran burlesque legend (and star of Teaserama) Tempest Storm at the car show

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Tempest Storm in the 1950s

Exploring the Charleston Antique Mall (a treasure trove of mid-century vintage kitsch) was fun. Was great seeing Jorge from Los Angeles (aka DJ Zorch) and his beautiful new girlfriend, albeit briefly. Finally meeting Sean Law! The pool parties with the surf band Aquasonics performing live every afternoon. For their sets they were joined onstage by Seattle burlesque starlet Miss Kitty Baby go-go dancing. Watching Kitty Baby (an escapee from a 1960s Russ Meyer film, with added tattoos) shake it like a Poloroid in the dreamy Vegas sunshine while drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon is a life-affirming experience: if the Viva Las Vegas weekender has a queen, it’s Miss Kitty Baby.


Me, Jim and Jorge
Me, Jim and Jorge (aka DJ Zorch from Los Angeles)

Sean Law and I
Historic Meeting: Two Canadians Meet in Las Vegas! Sean Law and I

Miss Kitty Baby
Go, baby, go! Miss Kitty Baby in action, go-go dancing to the surf sounds of the Aquasonics

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Jim and Miss Kitty Baby: Note how the lurid colours of his Hawaiian shirt and her go-go dancer outfit coordinate beautifully.

Fittingly, one of the film selections on the flight back to London was the classic 1953 Marlon Brando juvenile delinquent / motorcycle gang film The Wild One. I hadn’t seen it since I was a teenager and before popping an Ambien and crashing out for most of the journey I made a point of watching it. By today’s standards some aspects of The Wild One may seem camp-y and dated, but it’s a tightly-constructed, energetically told and really enjoyable B-movie, and as a rockabilly fanatic it obviously holds a timeless fascination for me. For one thing, the film came out before rock’n’roll burst through, so it’s surprising when a smouldering and insolent young Brando swaggers into a cafe and fires up the jukebox, instead of a burst of twang-y rockabilly it emits ... jazz. (Frantic bebop jazz, but even still! No wonder the trailer refers to them as “jazzed-up hoodlums”). And the clothes Brando and his gang The Black Rebel Motorcycle Club wear are so covetable they had me virtually drooling. The black leather engineer boots, the perfect Levis with the perfect turn-ups, the t-shirts, the leather jackets, the caps, the sunglasses, the quiffs, the sideburns ... Brando and his gang remain the absolute visual / sartorial ideal for male rockabillies in the way that, say, Bettie Page or Mamie van Doren do for female rockabillies.

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Anyway, roll on Viva Las Vegas 2012!

See more of my Viva Las Vegas 2011 photos on flickr

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