Last year, they were the critics’ choice – a loose configuration of talented friends and wacked-out musicians swirling around the nucleus of Richard Fearless, who happened to make[a]Death In Vegas[/a] ‘The Contino Sessions’ one of the fiercest, most potent and uplifting albums of 1999. Yet somehow it seemed unlikely that Death In Vegas‘ brilliantly diabolical dance-rock hybrid would wheedle its way into popular favour, particularly considering the predilection for mediocrity that has installed the likes of Stereophonics at the top of the charts. Now, a few months down the road, Death In Vegas have galvanised into the sort of bona fide phenomenon that not only walks away with the [I]NME'[/I]s[I] On The Decks [/I]Award For Best Dance Act, but gets nominated for a Brit and lands a Top Ten hit with a song about a serial killer. Truly, their time has come.
As Fearless and co stride onstage tonight, pixelated by coloured lights and grainy back-screen projections, it’s not just the rumbling musical pyrotechnics that make them such a compelling prospect – it’s their attitude. They lunge in synchronised intent for opener ‘Dirge’, beating out a hypnotic spiral of repetitious drone under Dot Allison‘s disembodied, spectral voice, easily exuding the louche, slightly sinister cool that sets proper rock’n’roll stars apart from mere bands. Even though – aside from Fearless – they are anonymous in the darkness, they’re the gang you want to join, making devil rock signs and euphorically punching fists in the air to the metal-spiked thrust of ‘Death Threat’. Effectively, they are a ‘dance’ band harnessing the punk rock ethos, taking the uncompromising spirit of MC5 and the ballsy aggression of AC/DC (a reference Fearless flaunts on his T-shirt tonight), and welding it to the rhythmic ambience of deconstructed techno. Genius.
The fact that none of the album’s special guests are present matters not a jot, for it propels Death In Vegas further into the realm of warped invention. ‘Aisha’ draws the dark beauty out from under the skin of Iggy Pop’s slurred vocals like blood, accelerating the rush of convulsive guitar until it is as dangerous and seductive as a speeding car. ‘Soul Auctioneer’, too, is stripped of Bobby Gillespie‘s vocals and bent into an entirely new, even more fearsome, shape. All of the ‘Contino…’ album tracks, in fact, have evolved – the tension and repetition they rely upon is taken to ever greater extremes, vibrating like a tuning fork in the hand of Satan until they either explode spectacularly or deflate in welcome, gentle release. Like Mogwai, Death In Vegas pound everything else out of your head – filling the space not with words or ideas, but with sheer volume and purgative emotion. No special guests needed. You leave seeing stars just the same.