Before I'd had time to process any of this information, Vegas was leading me upstairs to an apartment above the Oriental Theater, where he's currently staying. He showed me the space that serves as the bedroom of the minimally furnished flat. Two duffle bags crammed with hastily folded clothes sat on top of a futon mattress with a sleeping bag strewn across it. "I'm squatting here for a while," he explained. Spying a guitar next to the bed, I couldn't resist calling him out. "So play me a tune, man," I insisted. And just like that, he busted out his axe and let it rip. The song must've stirred something in him, because the next thing I knew, he was down the stairs and on the sidewalk in front of the theater, where he offered up an impromptu performance for anyone who wanted to listen.
As I headed home that night, I honestly didn't know what to make of the cat, what with his stories and the way he was kind of on ten, all up in everybody's grill, speaking of himself in the third person. But something about the dude struck me. There's no denying that Vegas is a consummate entertainer, with a certain magnetism that just sucks you in. He definitely made an impression on me.
Luckily, in this modern age it doesn't take much to find out if someone's legit or full of it. So as soon as I got back to the pad, I googled Vegas. And you know what? Everything he told me checked out. Everything. Not only does he know the Killers, but he did warm up for the outfit at Red Rocks — and has pictures on his MySpace page to prove it. What's more, his younger brother Ryan Pardey is indeed the group's road manager. I also found out a whole lot more about Vegas that he didn't share with me, like the fact that his dad Rod "Magoo" Pardey and his other brother, Rod Pardey Jr. , are both world-class poker players.
But none of those random factoids define Vegas. Nor are they the most interesting parts of his story. Vegas, who spent a year in military school between sixth and seventh grades, didn't start playing guitar until he was in his early twenties. He remembers buying his first axe on the day that Stevie Ray Vaughan died. It was August 1990, he was working in the kitchen at the Stardust, and he prayed that "God would give me some talent. I knew it was there for the taking."
Vegas was already plenty talented in other areas. Since high school, he'd worked in kitchens across Las Vegas, including a stint at the Riviera on one of the busiest lines in the country and another as the assistant executive chef at Debbie Reynolds's casino. From there, he bounced back and forth between Vegas and Spokane, Washington, and he started really putting an effort into his songwriting, writing more folksy storytelling songs on his acoustic. And the next few years gave him plenty to write about as he worked to develop his signature style, which takes the irreverent wit of Mojo Nixon and dresses it in the choppier, uber melodic stylings of the Violent Femmes, as delivered by a Sin City showman. He got married, had three kids, got divorced and lived in his dad's garage, which is when he met drummer Ronnie Vannucci — who'd previously played in a group with Vegas's younger brother — and the rest of the Killers. Then he moved back to Washington with another gal. And although he'd never gotten into any real trouble, he did manage to acquire a pretty substantial drug habit. Fans of his music, Vannucci and the boys urged him to get the monkey off his back.
"I got the ultimatum from Vannucci," Vegas explains. "He goes, 'We'd love to produce you and do all this, but we want you to clean up. You know, we love you, and we're worried about you.' So I've been clean now for a little over a year. March will be a year and half that I've been clean. I don't count the days — I just know I don't do it anymore."
The Killers have subsequently given Vegas a hand up, granting him opening slots on several dates of their tour. Which is great, but as you'll see if you stop by 3 Kings Tavern this Monday, August 20, he's doing just fine on his own in his adopted home town. Vegas decided to stay here after the Red Rocks show, and he's since found a ton of friends, including the Oriental's Scott LaBarbera, who's putting Vegas up in exchange for his grilling skills at Meltz (he's already named a Vegas sandwich creation after him), and Dave Fox, from Alley Recording Studios, who has been helping record some of Vegas's songs.
With his nomadic tendencies, it's hard to say how long Vegas will call Denver home. But it's a safe bet that his time here will be at least as memorable as Vegas himself has already been.
Upbeats and beatdowns: Time for a fond farewell to Drug Under, which officially called it a day after a string of dates in Sturgis. Best wishes, bros, y'all had a good run. And fans should be on the lookout for a promising new project that Romero's been working on with Jimmy D'Anda (myspace.com/jimmydanda).
But as one exits, a new one enters. Stop by the Gothic Theatre this Friday, August 17, for the debut of Muggshot, a supergroup featuring former members of Tyfoid Mary, Motograter, Corruption, Crusher Bound Cadillac and Withered Earth. The brand-new act will be sharing the bill with Downtown Daredevils, Dead Guys Watch and Snapstick Dynomite.
Finally, next Thursday, August 23, current Gotham denizen Gann Matthews returns to town for a date at the hi-dive with the Beebs and Joshua Novak.