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An ace of clubs worth the wait

Get Back is a monthly fix for those who shun lounge acts and aren't satisfied with the casino crowd.

March 11, 2007|Kevin Capp | Special to The Times

ON your next trip to Vegas, don't drop a mortgage payment on "proper attire" and on the door charge at one of the casino clubs on the Strip. Who needs to get blinded by the bouncers' flashlights and battered lame by the DJ's sonic sameness?

Instead, go downtown and check out the best Vegas party you've never heard of. It's called the Get Back, and although it's known among the city's fickle revelers for its cheap cover ($10 for men, $5 for women), its off-the-Strip locale and its eclectic music, it's the vibe that matters most. Drop in on the Get Back and you'll feel that you've somehow left this neon crucible of a city, that you've sneaked out in the dead of night in search of something different and managed to stumble upon that very thing -- along with your closest friends and a few cool strangers to enjoy it with.

Get this: The Get Back happens only on the first Friday of every month, after the First Friday Arts Festival, that painting, sculpture and really-bad-folk-music street fair, closes up shop around 10 p.m. And it convenes inside the Beauty Bar, the coast-to-coast watering-hole chain with the perm stations and manicurists and the other primp-and-spiff gimmicks, where you can find an odd but not surprising mix of pale and skinny goth freaks in all black, argyle-sweater-sporting hipsters with purposefully messy hair and throwbacks who look as though they just stepped out of a vintage MTV video.

In Vegas, such a mix is unusual, unnatural and almost forbidden. That's why there's a dress code, after all. But of course this is the Get Back's appeal.

Here the heterogeneous hordes are corralled between the back door and a chain-link fence and two concrete walls. It's an open-air arena whose lid is the starless night sky. The kids are as funky as the '70s-era soul brotha jams pumping continuously out of the speakers. Women in army fatigues or black cocktail dresses or slinky jeans push toward the DJ booth, arms akimbo, releasing a "wooo" before singing along to some funk masterpiece they recognize from its frequency of play. Like almost everybody else here, they're regulars. So when Gladys Knight and the Pips' "The Nitty Gritty" drops, they jump right in: "Do you know that some folks know about it? / Some don't. / Some will learn to shout it. / Some won't."

Mike "Murda" Carrasco, a granite-jawed break dancer with a sturdy build and a tangle of dreadlocks, and his 30 or so comrades stand in a cipher (hip-hop-speak for human circle). Illuminated by the strands of Christmas lights strung up everywhere and the giant film projection of muted colors on the widest, highest wall enclosing the lot, you can see Carrasco and company are straight buggin'.

After spinning on the concrete like an overturned turtle or deploying every extremity in a complex series of movements that makes him look like a spider zapped with electricity, Carrasco (or one of his colleagues) might push himself back up by standing on two hands (or maybe just one), before bouncing out of the cipher's center. But it's not over. It's somebody else's turn.

In any casino club when a cipher forms, bouncers start to swarm with flashlights, quick to break up the breakin' before the breakin' begins. To Carrasco, a member of the Vegas-based troupe the Knucklehead Zoo, the Get Back means that he and his people have "a place to go where they [aren't] gonna get hated on."

It's a sight -- and sound -- that must make the Get Back's founding father and principal DJ, John Doe, happy. The bespectacled Doe, clad in a T-shirt that features the late James Brown, whose lyrics inspired the party's title (and Doe's life), is doing all he can to keep the sainted Brown's legacy alive by spinning rare records -- like "Help Your Brothers" by the Cross Bronx Expressway -- with such conviction that a generation fried on 50 Cent and Britney Spears actually memorizes them.

Of course it helps that Doe, a native Las Vegan, loves the city's downtown. Ever since he returned here from college in Baltimore, where he would cruise that city's sketchy downtown streets in search of old 45s at mom-and-pop shops, he wanted to jump-start something in Vegas' forbidden zone.

Now it's positively gentrified. Although he preceded the First Friday phenom -- and at first paid it no heed -- the monthly fest has actually worked well for his purposes. Their goals are similar: "to bring people downtown and do something cultural," Doe says.

The Get Back has become one of the festival's official after-parties, a destination cool enough for hipsters and breakers.

Back at the party, while DJ Danny Boy scoops up the mike and reminds people where they are -- "Downtown Soulville" -- Doe puts the needle on Brown's classic "The Big Payback." The Godfather of Soul screams into the bump-ba-na-bump-ba-na rhythm.

The big hand on the clock may be hittin' the 12 at the same time the little one is hittin' the 3, and the party may be barreling toward its unfortunate conclusion, but you wouldn't know it from watching the guy standing just beyond the chain-link fence. He may not have paid the cover to get in -- indeed, he probably doesn't have anything to cover his head with at night. But he's there, grooving to the man who started it all.



The party place

Where: The Beauty Bar, 517 E. Fremont St. (between Las Vegas Boulevard and 6th Street), downtown Las Vegas.

Particulars: From 10 p.m., the first Friday of the month. 21 and older

Contact: (702) 598-1965,

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