The fuse of Punk Rock Bowling New Jersey was lit by Jon Caspi and the First Gun on June 10 at the world famous Stone Pony. A combinarion of old school punk noise, classic rock swinging, and boozed up riffage, they were a fitting opening spark to the weekend. Night Birds were such a delight. It was fitting for this band to play, bring lots of energy and a sound that is timeless and undeniably punk. They were voted Punknews number one album of 2015 and it is clear why, this band shreds.
The all mighty Falcon played a great mix of their over all catalogue. They ran through on the tunes with minimal breaks of their typical banter. The Bronx really knew how to close out this show right. They opened out the set with singer Matt Caughthran jumping right into the mosh pit. He spent the night performing there or on the Stone Pony side bar all night long, singing on point and never skipping a scream. The combined effort of the music being on point and Matt swirling around the crowd brought out the best energy from the audience. These guys really know how to put on a fantastic set.
Meanwhile, down the street at Wonder Bar, Suspect and Moral Panic stayed on the tried and true path of classic punk, as did Hub City Stompers. Reunited Mephiskapheles brought their unique brand of skatanic jams and it was a great celebration of the genre, the festival, and the dark lord himself.
The next day, the festival kicked off proper with Asbury Parkâ€™s own Lost in Society. The band certainly as cut from the same (grimer) cloth as another famous Asbury Park denizen, meshing hard rocking tunes with gravelly vocals. Skethcy brought a somewhat cleaner, more epic sound. Iron Chic came on when the crowd was really beginning to pick up and proved that their road tested tunes have made a name for the band with good reason. Italyâ€™s Giuda played a sound that was taken straight from the punk rock 101 handbook and it clearly resonated with audience.
By the time 88 Fingers Louie came on, the crowd was filling out and the band tore into their classic Epi-Fat sound. Despite their on-stage self-deprecation, the band was a tight unit, and somewhat surprisingly, played up their older school punk attributes compared to their 90s punk side. H20 represented New York at the Saturday show, and spent their set playing classics while interspersing positive message about the roots of punk as well as the positive change that it can affect.
Next, the reunited Dag Nasty with original singer Shawn Brown. In contrast to the the band's later singers, Brown brought a more traditionally hardcore punk sound to the band, and they were that much more energetic, and better, because of it. The whole band was energized and not only did they do the catalogue justice, they sort of redefined everything that came previously in their recorded output.
It was a nice contrast that, when the Subhumans came out, in contrast to the previous positivity, vocalist Dick Lucas spent a fair amount of his set growling at the horrors of capitalism. It was a nice effect that showed there is no one, single purpose for punk. The Subhumans, despite being perhaps a little under-appreciated on the American shores, got a huge response once they started their set of classic Anarcho-punk hits. The band was at once raw and tight, showing that a band can have an organic, truthful fire in them while still knocking ball after ball out of the park. In between the songs, Lucas would drop pearls of wisdom, such as his plan to fight the beach tax by having all of PRB storm the sand. Itâ€™s an oft underappreciated aspect of the band, but Lucas has a wry, impish sense of humor that perhaps gets overshadowed by the bandâ€™s serious message. The yuks are there if you look for them.
The mighty Descendents closed out the main stage on Saturday to an eager, excited audience. With a new album on the way, the return on the band was timed just right. The crowd did indeed go wild as the band opened their set with â€œEverything Suxâ€ (complete with an awesome riff off Black Flagâ€™s â€œRevengeâ€ as an intro).
The band covered their entire history, picking highpoints including classics like â€œHope,â€ â€œI wanna be a bear,â€ â€œBikeage,â€ and â€œCoffee Mug.â€ Itâ€™s a testament to the new songs that only did the new jammage hold its own with the hits, but the fresh material kicked up the set a notch, throwing the audience some welcomed, new songs in the bands 30 plus year history.
With a set of thirty songs and a set time of less than an hour, the band kept the energy at ten and it paid off. Hereâ€™s a band that has taken time off here and there, but whenever they return, they go ALL out. Youâ€™ll all be happy to know that the Descendents closed the set, speeding through their tunes to fight the clock, operating on all cylinders firing at full throttle. they might not be teenage misfits and nerds anymore, but that original fire is still in their bellies.
Immediately after, the Stone Pony opened up for club shows again. Morning Glory was a true highlight of the evening. The band opened up with a thundering intro that was punk in texture but heavy metal in force. Morning Glory have ignored the precept that punk must be inept or sloppy, and instead, have spent all their energy making their music as epic and impactful as possible. The band flew through their set, focusing almost exclusively on newer songs, and they sounded fantastic. Frontman Ezra Kireâ€™s voice was particularly powerful. This band needs to record a live album.
World/Inferno Friendship Society was on soon after and they also were a true highlight. The band has more less settled their current lineup and the band has snapped into a hard striking, sharp unit. Each of the songs blasted along with force and the band purposefully set aside their ballads for their harder running smashers, like â€œStagedives.â€ The crowd really got wild for this set, with multiple people hanging from the rafters and swinging back and forth. Meanwhile, the entire band congealed with such purpose, itâ€™s safe to say they are in another golden age. Frontman Jack Terricloth was drinking up the adulation, preening about the stage and really pulling from his gut when cutting his famous croon. Kudos, too, must be given to drummer Mora Precarious who despite being, oh say 115 ponds, smashed on like John Bonham on speed. Wowee! Precarious has brought her tank-power to the band and everyone is better because of it. Similarly, Scott Hollingsworth, who has been in the band (again) for a few years now, sprinkled on his swinging (kind of evil sounding) piano plinks and it really gives the band a fuller, weirder definition. See also Sandra Malak whoâ€™s opera vocals give the band a certain authority and a certain creepiness. Terricloth, Hollingsworth, Malak, Precarious, and the whole crew- this band REALLY needs to cut a live album!
Mariachi El Bronx closed out the club show at the Stone Pony. They were warmly received, mixing together tradiotnal Mariaci music with just a little bit of punk leaning. It was a fitting closing to a wonderfully weird show.
Meanwhile, down the street at the Wonderbar, PEARS kicked off the late evening with their modern take on hardcore meets pop-punk. If youâ€™ve been reading recent reviews, the Punknews battle for PEARS is on- are they something new and exciting or are they just histrionic? Are they young men that have harnessed the ageless spirit of punk or are they just ham-fisted wannabes? Are they a crew of modern visionaries or are they just a bunch of jerk-offs? After seeing their explosive, fiery set, this writer votes decidedly for the former columns. Here is a band getting down and dirty and wild. You might not expect these pointdexters to get this wild and berserk, but thatâ€™s kind of the point. This band barks at expectations and salutes those same expectations in the same set. Well done.
And while World/Inferno and Mariachi El Bronx were playing up punkâ€™s weird side, both Blanks 77 and The Virus stayed on the tired and true path of street punk. If anything, it proved that there is no one right way to do punk rock- everyone can come to the party and to prove yourself, you need do but one thing: be genuine. Every band that I saw passed that test, fore sure.
Day three opened with the explosive hardcore of Brutal Youth, which was a nice injection of the nastier stuff. The Scandals answered back with their Bruce-referencing punk stlyings which, of course, was a home-run with the crowd. Drug Church fired back at that take with their purposefully distanced post-hardcore which challenged the listeners as much as it played to them. And there was yet another counter-strike by b>Off with their Heads,/b> which barreled through a rapid set of crowd pleasing, gruff voice bangers.
Anti-Nowhere League represented the early UK streetpunk/motorcycle fronts and sped through their Motorhead-meets-UK Subs take. Youâ€™d be hard to pressed to find a punk that came name the bandâ€™s tunes beyond â€œSo What,â€ but the band actually went over huge with this particularly crowd who seemed to be readily familiar with each song, including the bandâ€™s Charlie Harper tribute. The set was tried and true, and that seemed to be just what the audience wanted.
To counter all the angry stuff from earlier in the day, The Slackers received an extremely warm reception once they got down into their easy grooving rocksteady set. The audience was clearly ready for some of the fun stuff, and the band delivered. This group is well oiled, but they still have a great deal of joy in their playing and that shone through- the band was having a good time so the audience was having a really good time. Even the most sour punk would be hard pressed to not kick loose for these songs. Also, the groupâ€™s surprisingly deft cover of the Misfitsâ€™ â€œAttitudeâ€ sure earned them some brownie points, too.
Agnostic Front played next, with a forceful, curt set. The band stayed true to their roots and kicked out one minute long hardcore anthem after another. It was fast and snappy, and really did highlight the merits of the genre. Thereâ€™s a reason Agnostic Front has outlasted many of their contemporaries and itâ€™s because they do what they do very well, in any size venue.
Next, the mighty FLAG took the stage. What can be said that hasnâ€™t been said. The fact is, the FLAG/Black Flag war is over and FLAG has won handily. The band ripped through the first four years and a few other tunes with vim, vigor, and a real sense of thrill. Truthfully, you could not find five other people on the planet today that could execute these songs better than the five on stage at Asbury Park.
Vocalist Keith Morris was his usual, wry self and did that thing that only he can do- which is sublime. Once again, as he has time after time, Morris firmly made the argument that he may be the greatest punk singer ever. Bassist Chuck Dukowski, too, played like a man possessed, snapping his bass like it was a sledgehammer. Do you know the secret power to these songs? Itâ€™s Dukowski.
Thankfully, Dez Cadena seemed to be in fine health following his cancer scare. Although his speaking voice still seemed to be in recovery, his singing voice was at itâ€™s peak tar-andâ€”glass sound, which, of course makes his songs hit like freight trains. And speaking of freight trains, Bill Stevenson drummed as only he can, smashing with the power of Keith Moon and the speed of Max Roach. And, then thereâ€™s Stephen Egerton- he took the job that nobody (and everbody) wantedâ€¦ and I donâ€™t even need to say itâ€¦ heâ€™s made himself a champion day in and day out. He has not only mastered the technique of these songs, but also the soul. Who else could do that?
It might be corny, but I am honestly thankful that I have gotten to see FLAG. Their mere existence seemed to not even be a possibility three years ago. And now, gig after gig, they have not only lived up to their expectations, but played some of the very greatest shows of all time. Seriously. Surely, it was a daunting task to do justice to this marvelous catalogue. FLAG not only did justice to these songs, they gave us insight into hat really makes these songs tick, and also, how much meaning and importance these songs still have. INCREDIBLE. INIMITABLE. PERFECT.
Oi legends Cocksparrer closed out the festival. Them headlining over FLAG was a bit or a surprise, but, to be fair, it was a bit of a coin toss. While FLAG reveled in that manic distress and chaos that they do so well, Cocksparrer restored order with football chants and classic songs that literally had the entire venue singing along. Punk has its negative and its positive. It was nice to end on an up note and it was doubly nice to see that the long running heroes are as good, or even better, than they have ever been.
Also, I think there was bowling somewhere, tooâ€¦?
-Additional reporting by Sam Barrett, Chris Barrett, Ricky Frankel, and Gene the Van Guy