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Las Vegas, Nevada, United States | SELF

Las Vegas, Nevada, United States | SELF
Band Americana Rock


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The best kept secret in music


"Noise: Accordion to Pete"

The Pete Contino Band brings a unique sound to the local bar scene
By Josh Bell

The Pete Contino Band
Where: Brendan's Irish Pub
When: 9:30 p.m. Wednesdays
Price: Free
Info: 365-7111

It's 11 o'clock on a Wednesday night but Brendan's Irish Pub at the Orleans is as full as it is on the weekends, with a crowd that runs the gamut from young hipsters to middle-aged couples and at least one seriously rockin' senior citizen, all drawn in by the unique sounds of the Pete Contino Band. Hit the average bar on the average night anywhere in town, but particularly inside a casino, and the band will be playing recognizable rock 'n' roll, popular songs that everyone can sing along to, even if—especially if—they're falling down drunk.

Not so here, where Contino and his band (guitarist Skip Eaton, stand-up bassist Rob Edwards, saxophonist Ed Judd, drummer Beau Doyle and percussionist Alfredo Alvarenga) play original tunes, obscure blues covers, and only occasionally, a top-40 hit. Not only that, but the star attraction of the band is Contino's instrument, not exactly typical in a bar setting: an accordion. The singer and instrumentalist has been playing the squeeze box since he was 9 years old, thanks to that particularly rockin' senior in the audience, Contino's dad, Dick.

Dick is a legend in the accordion world, and one of Contino's biggest influences. On one particular night, Contino coaxes his father on stage to sit in on two songs. The older man looks like he's having the time of his life, even if, by the end of the two extended jams, he's too tired to keep the accordion strapped on. During the second song, Contino subs for Doyle on drums, resuming a role he played for 15 years when he toured around the country as the drummer in his dad's backing band.

The next day on the phone, Contino is still jazzed about having his dad on stage the night before. "It's a kick to get him up like that," he says. A Los Angeles native who's lived in Las Vegas on and off since he was in junior high school, Contino has long been a staple of the local scene. He's been playing with his eponymous band at the Orleans for about two years now, exploring sounds influenced by Louisiana zydeco players like Buckwheat Zydeco, swamp boogie blues legends Dr. John and Professor Longhair, and some of Contino's favorite artists, including Tom Waits and Rickie Lee Jones. "I've always been kind of a B-side listener," Contino says, which might explain why his band doesn't just rehash songs you might hear on classic rock radio.

Before his stint as the accordion king of the Las Vegas bar scene, though, Contino did time as the drummer for seminal local rock band Inside Scarlet, and of course before that, he was on the road with his dad. In between gigs with his band, he poses as a strolling accordionist at places like the Venetian and Paris. To call his career eclectic would be an understatement.

Yet when asked what his long-term goals are, Contino balks. "I'm kind of open to anything," he says. He's got a live CD of original tunes coming out soon, and the band might be playing some gigs in Germany this summer. Mostly he's just happy to be playing his favorite instrument. "I'm surprised it's been accepted as much as it has been. It's an accordion," he says matter-of-factly, noting that most people's conception of his instrument of choice begins and ends with polka and "Weird Al" Yankovic—who, Contino notes, is "actually a phenomenal accordionist."

Contino knows what he can do with the accordion, and what he can't, and he's having a blast jamming with his band every week for an appreciative audience. They'll do eight minutes of an old Dr. John tune, but Contino has to choose his songs carefully. "You want to watch where you can go with it," he laughs. "Because people will say, 'You should do Metallica,' and I'm like, 'that's just kind of pushing it over that line.'"

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