Review by Stevie Allen and Ricky Frankel
Like the tide, or tax season, there’s something magically Christmas-like in the anticipation of the recurrent, familiar and upcoming. Every year, once the temperatures have started to soar into the unbearable and the last place you’d want to find yourself is a handful of miles outside of Death Valley, punks across the USA find themselves on the I-15, undertaking the climate-ly counterintuitive journey to the neon Mecca that is Memorial Day Weekend in “old” Vegas—Punk Rock Bowling. They say “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,” but we have a job to do. Maybe you couldn’t make it out this year, or perhaps you were there, but can’t possibly remember what went down all those beers ago; despite what “they” say, writer Stevie Navarre Allen and editor Ricky Frankel are gunna tell you all about it. Besides, who the fuck are “they” anyway?
Main Stage Day 1:
After coming to our senses from the travel and club show shenanigans from the night before, we headed first to the apparently “old” location of PRB Vegas—while we were pleasantly surprised to learn that the festival had been moved from the scorching blacktop of the previous 7th St. location to the much cooler concrete-topped Las Vegas Downtown Events Center, I wish we had learned this information prior to making the sweaty, fruitless pilgrimage to begin with. Just when you think you know a guy…now back on track, we ran to see Mobina Galore, and were stoked to catch this Canadian act for the first time. Sounding much larger than the sum of their two-piece parts, the girls deftly ripped through “Spend My Day” and “Vancouver Calling” amongst other jams from Feeling Disconnected and Cities Away to a warmly receptive crowd, even though the festival was just kicking off.
After watching Mobina, we took a little while to stake out the new festival digs—despite its relocation, the festival still felt like the same Punk Rock Bowling from years prior, and again, was most notably far cooler than years past. Also of note was the addition of two large video screens winging the main stage, a staple of most festivals, but seen for the first time in my PRB experience here. Though the screens were a great way to watch acts from afar, the videographers seemed to be bound by the same 3-song limit as photographers; in the downtime, INDECLINE played clips from their body of documentary segments. Though the material was relevant and interesting, obviously of particular poignancy to the crowd gathered, anyone who witnessed what felt like the unending visual assault of Forty-Five’s mac-n-cheese pubic region, can attest that the screens were at times more distracting than not. I digress…
Epitaph’s Plague Vendor was next on my must-see list, and they did not disappoint as they shredded their way through a majority of 2016’s BLOODSWEAT. Wildly engaging, their set felt part punk show, part French Quarter burlesque, and always with an impending threat of electrocution as singer Brandon Blaine haphazardly hydrated himself and the stage. The tossing of TP into the crowd added a bit of prankster levity, but I know I saw more than one person snagging a square or two to blot the sweat from their stinging eyes.
Things started to get a little claustrophobic once The Interrupters took the stage, so we broke away to get some grub and check out the various vendors before the heavy hitters took the stage later in the evening. Next up: The Spits—though I was not familiar with them at the start, knowing they are a Fat Mike favorite I wanted to see what the hype was, and was not disappointed. I’ll be digging into them more in the future, but was glad to get the chance to check them out live first.
OFF! has been a longtime favorite of mine, and as always, did not fail to deliver. Now with the crowd flocking in in earnest, Keith and the guys turned it up to 11, and this started to feel like a damn punk show. Starting with “Void You Out,” and ending on “Upside Down,” the twenty-something songs in between went by too quickly. Having just seen Me First and the Gimme Gimmes the night before at Backstage Bar and Billiards, we watched the crowd turn into a raucous sing-along sea from the back while catching up with friends, and getting ready for the main event: Iggy.
To cut to the chase, Iggy Pop was a goddamn prancing Palomino of man, and a glorious sight and sound to behold. Having thought I’d never get to see this live, I was alternately pinching myself while dodging tossed beers and flailing limbs, and blowing out my vocal chords to the tune of “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” “Search and Destroy” and “Raw Power” amongst others. It was absolutely surreal, and by far the highlight of the festival for me. Long live Iggy Pop.
Main Stage Day 2:
The first band that we saw on the second day of Punk Rock Bowling was The Real McKenzies who were pleasant surprise. They played a few new songs from their latest album Two Devils Will Talk like “Due West” and they dedicated one of their older songs “Dropping’ Like Flies” to Chris Cornell. The Dickies also put on a great performance, and one without incident. Once The Dickies finished up The Bouncing Souls took the stage. A good amount their set were songs from their latest record Simplicity, but they played classics like “Kate Is Great” and “East Coast! Fuck You!”
One of the main reasons that we made it to Punk Rock Bowling was to be able to catch the Choking Victim reunion. That alone made the trip worth it. The trio played all of the Crack Rock Steady classics like “500 Channels.” “Fuck America,” “Suicide,” “Infested” amazingly well. When they needed a second guitarist, they brought up none other than Brad Logan to help out. The way CV ended their set made it that much more legendary. The had Ara Babajian of The Slackers and formerly of Leftover Crack take over on drums and they brought up members of The Bouncing Souls to perform “Crack Rock Steady” with them.
Bad Religion closed out the night. We had seen Bad Religion plenty of times their set lists and overall performances are always strong — this one included. Of course, they played “Sorrow” and “American Jesus” and we were pleasantly surprised to see them perform “Anesthesia” and “You.” And as an added bonus, Fat Mike stole Jay Bentley’s bass during “We’re Only Gonna Die (From Our Own Arrogance).”
Main Stage Day 3:
On day three our group didn’t make it to the main festival until Discharge’s set. They did not disappoint to say the least especially when they played “The Nightmare Continues.” Discharge was easily one of the loudest and meanest bands of the festival. The Adicts were also amazing. Monkey ran on stage with his winged cape that had reflective “feathers” on it and many inflatables and playing cards were shown into the audience during songs like “Viva La Revolution” and “Joke In The Pack.” The band has a huge following on the West Coast, so the audience went absolutely ballistic during their set.
Pennywise, of course, played the anthems like “Fuck Authority” and “Society” that you expect they would, but what made their set really special was they cover “Minor Threat” by Minor Threat and then they brought Greg Hetson on stage to perform “Wild In The Streets” by The Circle Jerks and “Do What You Want” by Bad Religion. One of the band members even started bugging the Stern brothers about getting a Circle Jerks reunion to happen at the next PRB. Who knows if that could ever happen?
Closing out the festival was Oi! pioneers Cock Sparrer. They played some songs off their newest album Forever, which they did a signing for earlier in the day, but they also performed tracks like “Riot Squad” and “One By One.”
Club Show - Surprise Guests (Me First and The Gimme Gimmes/PEARS/Starving Wolves):
Amidst a flurry of rumors spreading like wildfire in the dry, dusty (did I mention lip cracking, eyeball desiccating-ly DRY?!) Vegas air, we took a gamble on the “Surprise Guest” Club Show billed for Friday, and were pleasantly surprised to learn that TX street punks Starving Wolves, NOLA hardcore boys PEARS, and the ever-original Me First and the Gimme Gimmes would be that evening’s entertainment at Backstage Bar & Billiards. JACKPOT. Starving Wolves brought their signature, searing energy and got the crowd moving despite the fact that many were still recovering from the day’s pilgrimage into the City of Sin. Now adequately liquored and limbered up, the crowd matched the manic energy of PEARS, who even added the “Sisters in Christ” theme song, a local New Orleans record shop, to their repertoire. Next up were the Gimmes—I had never seen them live before, and I’m not naive by any means, but know I will never look at “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” quite the same again…
Club Show - The Menzingers/The Lawrence Arms/Toys That Kill/Bad Cop/BadCop:
Once the first day often main festival ended I (Ricky) walked a mile and a half to The Bunkhouse to see one of the most Orgcore shows I had ever been to… and I was so stoked for it. When I got there Bad Cop/Bad Cop were on the outdoor stage and had just started their incredibly lively set which included songs like “Rodeo,” “Cheers” and even brand new songs such as “Victoria” and “Retrograde.” Then the audience headed inside see Toys The Kill. This was my first time seeing them and they kicked major ass. As a fan of the Anxious And Angry podcast it was really cool to see them perform “They Tied Up All Our Lace.” After a drink or three I made my way to the outdoor stage to make sure that i was as close as I could be for when The Lawrence Arms began their set. I hadn’t seen the trio live for about three years so i could not have been more excited. The Larry Arms were all I had hope for and more. The banter between Brendan and the guys was hilarious and they played songs from all over their discography like “Seventeener (17th and 37th),” Beautiful Things,” “Like A Record Player,” “100 Resolutions” and they finished with “Are You There Margaret? It's Me, God” and by that point my mind was sufficiently blown. To end the night (morning really) The Menzingers put on one of the best performances of the festival. I have seen them easily four times and this was their best. They too also had a wide-ranging set list with early songs like “I Was Born” and “Irish Goodbyes” and later songs like “Sun Hotel,” “Boy Blue,” “In Remission,” “Charlie’s Army” and “After The Party."
Club Show - Punk Rock Karaoke/Tartar Control
My (Ricky) last club show was on Monday at The Fremont Country Club where Tartar Control and Punk Rock Karaoke performed. If you haven’t seen Tartar Control yet… DO IT! They are funniest punk band out there right now and their songs are incredible. The two Mormons and robot kick out jams such as “Smoking Crack.” “My God’s Cock,” “Diabolical,” “Brush Your Teeth” and “Peach Cobbler Party.” Lead vocalist Robert Slander never fails in making everyone laugh when he jumps into the crowd and pushes everyone or screams into the mic while getting up lose and personal with one of the security guards’ faces. Their banters/act is one that cannot be matched, and I was near tears from laughing around half way through their performance. Punk Rock Karaoke have always been a band I had wanted to check out, but for some reasons never got to. And before you ask, no I did not sing, but as I am writing this I wish I had taken a few shots and signed up to do it. Really, the coolest parts of their set was when Erich Goodyear of PEARS sang “Myage” by The Descendents and when Fat Mike sang “Give It Back” by The Dickies.
What’s more to say? Despite the Fremont Street Experience’s LED show notably removing Smash Mouth’s “All Star” from their repeated playlist lineup, Punk Rock Bowling has and will always be the hardest-to-remember but most outrageously bacchanalian and indulgent punk festival the West Coast has to offer and is truly something to be experienced. And remember kids, rest your livers and ear drums now—there’s only 300 or so days until we do it all again next year!
Review by Stevie Allen and Ricky Frankel