Lab Partners - Review for Wicked Branches:
Las Vegas Weekly

Mar. 30 - Apr. 5, 2006

ON THE SCENE: The Night of the Angry Panda
And other notes from a wild show at Celebrity
By Spencer Patterson

Afrirampo in Las Vegas? Afrirampo in Las Vegas!" I repeated the words in my head as I trekked Downtown toward Celebrity around 9 last Tuesday night, trying to make sense of a most nonsensical happening. Was Japan's female banshee-rock duo actually slated to appear in a town as famous for embracing avant-garde music as for teetotalism and snowstorms? Would Osaka-based experimentalists Oni and Pikacyu really show up? And if they did, would I be the only one present to witness their devilish brand of stage mayhem?


Afrirampo drew a time slot after midnight, but the venue—which converted from a drag-show nightclub to a live-music haven several months back—offered a promising support bill to keep a modest but resolute crowd occupied: local outfits Flaspar and the Pandas, along with Dayton, Ohio's, Lab Partners. Now, if I could just keep my eyes open until Afrirampo materialized in the wee hours of Wednesday morning.
As it turned out, staying awake mostly wasn't tough. Flaspar—a four-piece with a synth-driven, dance-punk sound reminiscent of Gang of Four or the Rapture—kicked off the night with a high-energy set. Frontman Keil Corcoran descended from Celebrity's raised stage on several occasions, forging ahead with his reverb-laced vocals on his wireless mic as he weaved between the tables, strode past a bar near the back wall and waded through a throng of jittering dancers before rejoining his bandmates.


The Pandas' set was even more action-packed, but in a far less expected way. As the psych-rock quartet worked through a brief soundcheck, frontman Bobby Martinez—formerly of Los Angeles band the Warlocks—began feuding with Celebrity soundman Jodi Coon. "I have a lot of respect for people who care about music. Obviously you don't," Martinez jabbed as he became frustrated with the levels of his microphone and the vocals in his onstage monitor. "Can someone else do sound? Please?" After a couple of songs, Martinez's comments grew more pointed. "This is like asking God to revive my dead dog, but can you turn some of these white lights down a little bit?" A few minutes later, an audience member seated behind me, wearing a "Die Hipster Scum" T-shirt, fired back: "Shut the f--k up and play some music!," prompting Martinez to announce, "That's it; we're done," and kick over a house microphone.


A second sound operator didn't take kindly to that and raced up the stairs to the stage, tackling Martinez in the vicinity of the Pandas' drum set. Amid shouting and catcalls from the crowd, two of Martinez's friends joined the melee, pulling the combatants apart as the band began packing up its gear. Two security guards from the adjacent Lady Luck Casino—which owns and operates Celebrity—were called to the scene, but the fracas had subsided by then.


"Bobby's normally a sweet guy, but he has a bit of a rock-star attitude. He definitely owes me an apology," says promoter Brandy Provenzano, who has booked the Pandas for multiple gigs at Celebrity and Beauty Bar, and was the object of a profanity-laced barb from Martinez as the band left the stage. "Then again, our sound guy isn't the easy guy to get along with. He's abrasive ... an old-school sound guy who thinks all these indie bands are shit. This isn't the first time there's been an issue with Jodi. Pretty much every band I've had in there has complained."


When I reach Martinez a couple of days later, he's still steaming over the incident. "I can't perform under those conditions," he says. "I don't care to deal with incomponent people."


The Lab Partners had the unenviable task of going on after the skirmish, and the droning, space-rock foursome did an admirable job refocusing the crowd's attention. Though my eyelids grew heavy as the Midwesterners played, I noted their music sounded more eventful in concert than on their album, and that the band was easily the most polished of the night.


Then, with the clock nearing 1:30 a.m., it was finally time for Afrirampo. Oni and Pikacyu arrived in bright red dresses, clasped in a tight embrace as they twirled to midstage. Pikacyu attached what looked to be either an ancient tree branch or a fossilized animal antler to a mic stand near her drum set. Oni strapped on her shiny electric guitar. The two women locked eyes and harmonized on a series of otherworldy, high-pitched wails. And then, like a flash of lightning, the pair attacked their instruments and the insanity began.


For the next hour, the few dozen of us gathered around the stage were treated to a musical blitzkrieg, the type of mind-altering performance I haven't seen in Las Vegas since Japan's Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paraiso U.F.O. touched down at tiny Café Roma in November 2002. Afrirampo was a visual wonder, their arms and legs a blur as they built to unrelenting, extreme tempos. There was no denying the immense musicianship, either, as the drum-and-guitar duo put the White Stripes to shame with a wildly free, yet surprisingly tight set of tunes. Japanese lyrics, English phrases and unidentifiable vocal blasts waged battle atop a canopy of punky riffs and psychedelic excursions that, although noisy and challenging, sounded surprisingly concordant.


By the time I staggered out of Celebrity after 2:30, my ears were ringing, my head was throbbing and my legs were fighting off the atrophy of a long night, symptoms of the type of fantastic experience that never fades from memory, no matter how many hundreds of gigs you've seen in your life.