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July 20, 2017

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Guest Columnist:

Max Plenke of Rusty Maples: Downtown is savage, aural hotbed of new, powerful art


Denise Truscello / WireImage /

Las Vegas band Rusty Maples at Austin Ale House for 2014 SXSW on Thursday, March 13, 2014, in Austin, Texas.

Rusty Maples at 2014 SXSW

Las Vegas band Rusty Maples at Austin Ale House for 2014 SXSW on Thursday, March 13, 2014, in Austin, Texas. Launch slideshow »

Robin Leach has finished his annual summer vacation under the Tuscan sun in Italy, and many of our Strip personalities again stepped forward in his absence to pen their own words of wisdom. As Robin enjoys the remainder of his working vacation with his family, we continue today with our popular guest columns. Here’s Las Vegas indie-folk rockers Rusty Maples with drummer and writer Max Plenke.

Rusty Maples’ newest album released last week, “The Western World,” is being hailed as “nothing short of sublime” with haunted harmonies and a strident, acoustic punk vibe thrown in the strong set of tunes. Their buzz has been growing yearlong, and reviewer Annie Zaleski says, “The band appears poised to break big on a national scale.” Max looks back over the last two years of growing pains downtown.

We released our second EP at the Bunkhouse in December 2012. We’d driven through snow, feet of it, miles of it, before steering our rented minivan across the state line, the snow still hanging on from somewhere above Reno thawing and tumbling in our wake along the 95.

The Bunkhouse, by comparison, was tropical and huffing a tobacco fog, our crowd of the smoking and dancing caliber that night. We reeled into our first song, and the room undulated and inhaled and awoke with the sounds of a community pushing itself into the tiny hours. There was promise. It had nothing to do with anything onstage, but what was happening on the floor, in the booths, at the bar.

People. Not many in retrospect, but enough. Still a fairly new band ourselves, the release quickly became one of our favorite nights at that bar, and at very least on the short list of favorite Rusty Maples shows ever.

In the two years since that release, downtown’s music options surged and lit up barefaced buildings all along Fremont Street, quickly joining Beauty Bar and the Griffin as part of The Local Music Scene, proper noun. It wasn’t just the obvious impact of the Downtown Project and the entities that went along with it, but the sudden spike in popularity influenced local business owners — previous and prospective — to take the steps they needed to launch their own ideas.

Now the block bellows with new neon and the constant din of DJs and live bands, almost oppressively if it didn’t kick so much ass. Local bands got what we’d always wanted: not just a couple but a pile of places to perform. And then we started to see bigger names — Ty Segal, Washed Out, Lord Huron — the bands that, like the mid-level touring acts before them, would skip our market.

Bands that thought downtown was a wasteland of auto body shops and a stretch of old casinos. Things Las Vegans still think, though we have no idea how. In the two years since that release, downtown has grown into a savage, aural hotbed of new and powerful art trying its hardest to poke a hole in the lounge act and the Strip show assumptions. And, recently, it’s started to work.

We’ve had the opportunity to play at damn near all of the new venues. We’ve done the raging Life Is Beautiful announcement event at Fremont Country Club, the showcase at Artifice and the surprise party at Velveteen Rabbit. And when the Bunkhouse reopens this summer, we’ll be there to welcome it back into the community with hoarse throats and blaring amps.

This month, we drove out of the mountains again to release our third EP, “The Western World.” We’ll see the Strip rise out of the darkness the way it does from every angle and every interstate. But as we approach this time, the glow will come from the north. It’ll stretch another mile to downtown Las Vegas.

And that’s where we’ll be.

Be sure to check out our other guest columnist today, Delano Las Vegas GM Matthew Chilton. Then on Tuesday, we’ll meet up with Las Vegas entertainment manager and producer Seth Yudof and Epicurean Charitable Foundation’s Melissa Arias. On Wednesday, it’s speed on two wheels from Gene Woods and Brook Watts. On Thursday, it’s all about the new SLS Las Vegas grand opening this week with guest chef and nightlife columns.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

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