No written rule states that local Las Vegas bands playing their own original music can’t play in casino showrooms on the world-famous Strip. It might seem this way, but in reality the only impetus local bands face is their ability to draw a crowd that could fill the joint. To date, only new wave goliaths The Killers have ascended high enough to merit regular booking in Sin City’s largest halls, and even they had to leave town first before earning the fanbase necessary to headline in their hometown. So when funk-indie jamband Moksha announced they would host their debut CD release party inside the Mandalay Bay’s House of Blues Las Vegas – a room with both Insane Clown Posse and Cyndi Lauper on the upcoming docket – word spread through the local scene like wildfire in anticipation.
The atmosphere felt more like a family barbeque than a concert, with hundreds of Las Vegas locals sharing their “I knew them when…” stories in between hugs and cocktails. Getting the party started on the sprawling stage, openers Kid Meets Cougar unleashed a flurry of “electro-organic” madness in front of an appreciative smattering of their own fans and early arrivals. Each member of the duo seemed to be playing a dozen instruments at once, constructing each song as if sequencing a computer program aimed at self-destruction. As science-fiction videos starring them synced in the background with the music, Courtney Carroll and Brett Bolton crooned, rapped and outright powered their way through an energetic, danceable set full of electronic beats and indie rock.
Taking full advantage of all available real estate in honor of their big day, Moksha’s core quartet packed the stage with musical guests and artistic friends. At its peak it was dizzying – five horns, three rotating guest vocalists, three back-up singers, two rappers, and three body painters with nude subjects all crowded the stage. Within the mass were saxophonist Peter Apfelbaum from Trey Anastasio Band fame, multi-instrumentalist Rob Covacevich from SoCal world funk outlet Delta Nove, and the borrowed horn section from Carlos Santana’s Las Vegas revue housed down the street in a competing casino. Despite the constant flurry of activity the band shone through with two tightly packed sets, featuring each track from the album released at the gig, Mammal or Machine.
Starting off like the album, the show opened with the New Orleans flavor and blaring brass of “Bran Nu Junk”, and the alternating rock and R&B tones of “Blind To The Time”, highlighted by the soulful vocals and swirling organ of Brian Triola. “Island Thyme” paired Triola’s keys with the flowing fretwork of Jeremy Parks. Parks masters the restraint necessary to craft truly epic psychedelic guitar sections, putting the audience in a trance via a slow burn rather than filling the air with unnecessary notes and showmanship.
A handful of tracks on the album feature guests vocalists, which the band ushered on stage mostly through the first set. Angela Kerfoot, a former regular member of Moksha, added a sexy howl to “Say U Will”, while Windy Karigianes aced her album cut, the sprawling opus “Open The Door”. Moksha even let local rap crew F.I.N. (Future Is Now) in on the fun with one of the evening’s most bombastic numbers, a cover of Radiohead’s “The National Anthem”. Fervently driven on the low end by bassist John Heishman and drummer Pat Gray, and belted out by vocalist Sam Lemos, there was no ceiling high enough the crowd couldn’t jump through by the song’s crashing noisy crescendo.
“Bobbin’ On The Sea” and “Easy A” tread in traditional guitar-and-organ-driven jamband waters, but more importantly allowed the band to shed the added weight of their guests and focus on showcasing the instrumental harmony the foursome creates together. “Trouble”, a lengthy bluegrass number, feels oddly out of place even in Moksha’s diverse repertoire, but all in all the band ably displayed throughout the affair why the Strip opened it’s exclusive doors where plenty of others have been turned away at the gate. Longer tours and festivals may await these Las Vegans, but they’ll always have a home in the desert and the memories of their night in the Strip’s neon glow.