Review by Okra Windfrey
I hop into a cab headed straight for the Golden Nugget. From airport to Fremont Street my Lake Tahoe native cabbie dishes out the realness of Las Vegas. He tells me how all Las Vegas residents abhor the strip and wouldn’t touch it for their lives. I nod along, asking him where all the real places are to hang out, knowing full and well I’ll be too preoccupied with the fest events to do anything else.
As he pulls into a small circular driveway infested with cabs, I pull out my full wad of cash for the weekend. I pull out two 20s and a 10, feeling bold with the tip, and slap it into his hand. I get out and wave goodbye as he mutters on about hating the strip and everything that comes with it, “…those damn prostitutes.”
Taking in the view of the foyer while standing in the queue for the front desk I am suddenly struck by the decor. Mirrors and shiny silver line the walls. Marble and well-vacuumed rugs hug the floor. I am a long way from a Philadelphia DIY venue. Looking around at the people, though, I could have been fooled. The line isn’t long, but the few people that congregate near the Front Desk look like they walked out of a show at Gilman Street. I look over their black fedoras, loose jeans rolled at the cuff, and pyramid studs plucked onto their black vests as I wait my turn.
When it’s my time I walk up to the concierge and without even an introduction she slides a Punk Rock Bowling 20th Anniversary pamphlet across the black marble desk and requests for identification. She gives me her spiel and relinquishes my room keys. Jolting through the maze of people, I head up to the 14th floor of the Carson tower to drop off my things and head to the first club show. Radioactivity is playing and I’m moments away from missing them. The festivities would have to wait, however. While my emotions run high and my energy is set to ‘go,’ everything is going wrong.
When I find the right room – 14114 – I can’t get in; I’m locked out. I lay in the hallway of the 14th floor next to my luggage, waving a tiny bit of plastic at the door knob. Fellow hotel patrons meander by, offering assistance and guidance. Nothing works. I imagine Radioactivity climbing on stage as I sit in the fetal position before this dumb door that won’t budge.
Security waddles down the corridor, requests my ID, and calls the maintenance man. “You’ve got a dead battery,” he scoffs, “the fucking cleaning lady should have told me about this. She opened the goddamn room to clean it; she would have known!” He jimmies it open. I run through the door and set my bags on the bed. “This is gonna take a minute, I have to recharge the battery,” the maintenance guy huffs, pulling a chair towards the door and plopping down. I meekly shrug and continue to unpack.
Settled and set with a dead battery charged, the security/maintenance duo coughs, “Alright you’re ready to go!” I couldn’t have said it better myself. We shake hands and go our separate ways, them in search of more work and I in search of what Vegas offers.
I stroll through Fremont Street. The lights are bright even at this late hour of the night. I watch tourists take pictures with bare cheek strippers and celebrity impersonators. A woman lay on the ground against a wall; police are attempting to get her up. She slurs her words and drunkenly pleads to a man who’s telling the cops, “Man, I don’t even really know this bitch.” I hear Lil Uzi in the distance.
I encounter a couple of rowdy punks. A photographer sees the bunch and asks them to pose. They hop over each other, grab necks, spill their beer and make a ruckus in the process.
“Now you owe them a beer!” cries the photographer, thinking he’s in on the joke.
“What does this mean, when they get rowdy like this?” a tourist whispers nearby.
No matter the time zone, I’m awake at 7; 4 hours of sleep and I still wake up bright and early. The curtain is drawn tight, but there’s a sliver of light peering into the room, screaming at me, “You can’t escape me!” Should I get up, I ponder. I calculate all the possible outcomes and roll over to sleep.
But sleep never comes. While I have no hangover from the whopping 2 drinks the night before, my body aches and my brain is wracked with anxiety.
Why am I here, I find myself wondering. Sure I was slated to play – before my bands untimely demise – but why torture myself and face the “what could have been?” Why come out to the desert only to watch your dreams from the sidelines? These are questions I couldn’t answer at 7:45 on a Las Vegas Saturday morning. I wrestle myself into a bathing suit and head for the pool.
As I get cozy in a nice lounge chair, a nearby couple glance me over.
“Pardon me, is there a convention going on?” they lean towards me, wondering why they are surrounded by tattooed weirdos while on vacation.
”Kind of, I guess!” I reply, “It’s Punk Rock Bowling!”
As I settle further into my chair, I scan the sea of freaks. Gen X’s ‘One Hundred Punks’ is quick to come to mind. Tattoos, piercings, dyed hair, studs and spikes. It was an odd sight to witness so many punks outside a venue especially a clean and well-to-do hotel. There were punks of all kinds. Poolside, my favorite was the astute gentleman walking around, endlessly carrying back and forth an empty ice bucket to the pool bar to bring fresh beers to his lazy friends. He’s dressed in swim trunks, no shirt, a heavily studded vest, and – most importantly - a captain’s hat. “I’m in charge of getting us drunk,” his attire said.
The pool is the place to be. Old heads and young bucks rub elbows, old friends and new. California, Portland, Jersey, Missouri, and Australia come together. You can drink. You can smoke. You can gamble, swim, mingle, or lounge. Do whatever you like.
In the center of the pool is a large aquarium that houses schools of fish you can swim alongside. Women waft close to the sides, never fully submerging, like imitation ladies-of-the-water. I find a place to sit on the edge, dipping my toes in as a cool wind blows. The punks here for the fest aren’t the only ones present, though; tourist sons swim in the deep end of the circular pool while their families peer through a cluster of mohawks from a distance.
Pool time can’t last forever, though. While not many bands are on my roster today, I can’t miss Marked Men. Through with rubbing elbows and meeting punks from all over the country, I pack up my belongings and head across the street to the main stage.
Sliding past the long general admission line with a press pass, I look down to see the start of a large stretch of Astroturf. D.O.A. finishes as I walk in. A flock of humans walk away from the pit, looking for beer and fresh air. Roadies scramble to set up for the next set. Studded vests and short-shorts lay on the Astroturf. Security scans their phones, waiting for the chaos that comes with each wave of music.
As I move toward the stage I spot Fat Mike wandering around the roadies as they pack up the previous bands equipment. Clad in his kilt, he scratches his chin and moseys around the stage. I am surprised to see him here. The few times I’ve ever been in his presence are when he showed up right on time to perform. I double check the fest lineup to realize he’s a whole day early.
The stage music cut out. Marked Men linger around on stage until they finally ask, “Are we ready?” Someone must have given them the thumbs up because they start tearing away at the silence that surrounds us all.
“Just give a little bit of ti-e-ime…”
The bass drum hits you. The vocal whine drops into you. And the beat sets in. Everyone nods their heads in the same motion. Marked Men are a train heading right at you, live. Some people look confused at Marked Men’s sound. No mosh pit. But Marked Men is for dancing.
“Ditch, stuck in a ditch,” they whine at us. I scream it back to them. My hips sway; I rock on my toes and contort to the beat. It’s that signature marching beat. It’s that march towards apathy.
The oohs and ahs ooze over the audience. Both guitars find an imaginary beat to tap their knees in sync with. The bassist is prone to a power stance and throws the occasional head nod. It’s a synchronized dance they all unknowingly learned.
An awkward silence lands on the crowd during a break for water. We politely wait as the band sips on the plastic bottles before being suddenly blasted back into place, “Gone away, gone away…”
“When I say no… No!” It’s a different crowd than when I saw them last headline Damaged City Fest. DC Fest left me crushed by the crowd. This audience confusedly nods their heads and pumps their fists. A couple of punks take a shot at a circle pit. They skip around in a blasé manner, hoping to inspire others. It doesn’t work and they give up. But with the start of the next song after a lull, the inner most circle simultaneously started a semi -legit pit. Males hug males in an embrace and they dance in a jig.
“I just wanna wait here waiting for you.”
A young girl with a Mohawk and plaid skirt near the barricade gets tapped on the shoulder by a man three times her height. She turns around and looks up at the looming figure. In response, he crouches down to meet her at eye level and raises his hand, offering a hi-five. She’s by far the youngest of the crowd, and children at these functions often become celebrities for a weekend, a shining example of the future of punk.
“Gotta fix my brain.”
A guy in a torn and weathered “FUCKED BY SATAN” shirt begins to pull peoples’ arms to get them to dance. People get disgruntled and warn him, “Back off buddy!” He shrugs his shoulders and slam dances elsewhere. As he continues in his quest to start a pit, though, his antics catch up to him. A fight breaks out. The attacker swings wide punches and the crowd in the immediate vicinity rushes in to break them up. Security is nowhere to be seen. Aggressor and victim are led their separate ways.
After leaving the fest, I head back down Fremont Street. I pass Jesus Freaks wielding signs and street performers contorting to Kendrick Lamar. Because most punks are occupied with the fest, I am the lone freak in the crowd. Blue hair, blue lipstick, blue boots. People stop and stare. I get devil horns and hi-fives. I pass another punk, who for the first time in Vegas, turns as I walk and mumbles, “Smokin’!”
“Fuck off,” I groan.
While freshening up in my hotel room, alone, my bunkmate sends me a cryptic text message. I’m not in the mood, I think to myself. I’m in Vegas and don’t want drama. I had plenty of friends that offered me a bed in their room, so I pack up my shit and head to the 7th floor.
It takes two elevators to go halfway down the Carson tower, but I find room 762 with ease and knock on the door. My friend lets me in with open arms. As I settle into my second hotel room for the stay, I peer through the window to see the full stretch of the events at the festival. Luicidal performs to a crowd that fills the large green expanse. The stage, from what I can see, is littered with audience members dancing along.
It’s still too early for the club show by the time I’m back on Freemont Street. I mosey through the shops and performers, until I find a cheap, knock-off 5 dollar Rubik’s cube. I pay the attendant, tear off the packaging, and start to shuffle the colors around the puzzle box. I lean against a concrete pillar under the bright lights of Downtown Las Vegas.
A deep Australian accent startles out of my concentration, telling me, “I love Protex.” As I peer up, a thick forefinger is pointing at my shirt, emblazoned with the power pop bands faces. I agree with him and boast that I opened for them in a distance past. His pointed fist opens for a handshake, “Hi, I’m Mike.” We shake hands. In return, I compliment him on his X-Ray Spex muscle tee. So far Mike has the most similar taste in music I’ve met all day, heavy on the power-pop and 77. As the time draws nearer for my first Punk Rock Bowling club show I ask if he’s going my way.
“No,” his Aussie tongue clicks, “It’s not Dead Boys without Stiv, man!”
When I arrive at the Guest Pass gate, they can’t find my media pass information. Denied. As I saunter away from the very strict, take-no-shit female security team, Crazy and The Brains’ friends wait patiently in line. They see me perform this walk of shame away from the club. Moments later, the bands bassist (Brett) and singer (Chris) are by my side offering me a way in – from Brett’s front right pocket a slew of wristbands magically appear. He slides one on my wrist and everything is back on track.
Brett leads me backstage and we loiter around a billiard table, shooting the shit. “Honestly, he’s a good cop,” I overhear someone say in the green room. A loud applause signals the end of the 1st band’s set. It’s time for Crazy and The Brains to get their game face on. Brett and their xylophonist (Jeff) erupt into yells, hollers, and vocal exercises.
I wish them the best of luck and run out of the green room towards the front of the crowd.
From the audience’s view, the back of the stage is a large bookcase. The center opens, revealing a secret passage Crazy and The Brains take to enter the performance space from the green room. Ernest, the guitarist, struts around, gapes his mouth wide open in awe. Chris rolls all over the stage. The crowd moves closer. Punks start pumping fists and wooing.
“What the fuck is that,” yells Chris as Jeff xylophones his way through a solo. Chris jumps onto the barrier and amps up the crowd. He towers over them, pumping up his hands and getting in their faces. He rolls back onto the stage and dances around, tip toeing back and forth.
“This song is about the celebration of self,” Chris decries as the guitar wales into another song.
Ernest noodles on the guitar as he leans forward and back, small movements that guide his guitar’s headstock towards the audience and towards the back of the stage. Brett rocks to the beat, never far from his mic and always ready for those vocal oohs. John, the drummer, smiles and bites his tongue. You can tell they love it. Touring up to Las Vegas definitely didn’t hurt their morale at all, it might have only amped them up.
“What’s the mood level,” Chris asks between pants of breath before the set picks up again, barreling into another song.
Jeff pushes Chris out of the way and plants himself up front. He takes his glockenspiel to his chin like a violin. With an apathetic and self-assured look on his face, Jeff begins to slam his mallets onto the metal keys. The sound, without a mic, floats over the crowd. Everyone goes wild.
I don’t how to take the Schizophonics. The lead singer/guitarist never. Stops. Moving. He jumps and falls. He half dances, half thrashes as the songs play on. He strums downward to the left as his head and body jump to the right. He jumps and bangs at his guitar to emphasize the beat. His notes seem nonsensical and sporadic, like some dada Avant-garde bullshit. The product of Adderall and LSD, perhaps.
He drops his guitar. iPhones fly into the air. The bassist and drummer hold down the rhythm waiting for him to get his shit together. He finally finds himself, finds his guitar, gets up and finds the song.
Occasionally he accidentally knocks over his mic stand with all the jumping and thrusting and falling. Before it lands with a thump to the floor, he quickly turns and grabs the mic. He moves with an accidental purpose, almost to say, ‘I have no idea what I’m doing but everything works out in the end.’
As I walk away, I hear the singer attempt to squelch my confusion by adding, “We’re not necessarily a punk band, but we were booked for our bowling team.”
Dead Boys is a blur. I feel torn to see them. Without Stiv, it feels more like a cover band, albeit that Cheetah and Blitz are present. Stiv’s replacement doesn’t make it easy.
You’ve seen the 1977 CBGB footage of Dead Boys, right? Well, so has he – it shows. Everything from the studded pyramid spiked bracelet, shit-eating grin, and a skinny-tie over a cut-off shirt. He leans over the crowd, whips his head around, and splashes beer on us. It’s hard to watch.
Luckily, he doesn’t have food safety-pinned to him to blow snot into and eat.
Interestingly, his cut off shirt is screen printed with this years’ Manic Relapse lineup. This throws me off because I wasn’t expecting anyone from this crowd to be remotely interested in that particular festival. I myself had to choose between attending Punk Rock Bowling and Manic Relapse. I would later find out that Stiv’s replacement was a staple of the Oakland scene, hence the Oakland fest representation.
Cheetah’s lost that red mane I grew up idolizing. He’s grown more relaxed on stage, too. He doesn’t thrash around like the videos I’ve watched a million times. He’s confident of his skill and stands tall as he shreds the old licks I know by heart.
Dead Boys wrap up their set and walk through the hidden door of the bookcase. I wait for the house music or bar lights to come back up. They never do. Instead, a voice comes over the PA.
“Who wants more Dead Boys?” Some people holler.
“C’mon, who wants more Dead Boys?!” The voice bellows over the crowd.
The response is lukewarm, and yet, no one moves. The voice eventually gets the crowd to warmer temperatures and the band single files through the bookcase and back to their places. I walk away, unwilling to watch the charade of my teenage dreams continue. I shuffle off to the side of the stage, bumping into Chris on his way back to the green room. Following him inside, I notice the bookshelf/door is ajar, revealing the Dead Boys’ encore. Peering through the bookshelf this time, though, I see through the performance and get a view of the faces in the audience. They look up at Jake Hout (Stiv’s replacement), eyes wide and mouths moving along with his. They raise their hands towards him. I loved Stiv, but they love Dead Boys. He can imitate Stiv all night, they’d always come back for more.
With the Dead Boys set finished, my first thirst for gambling starts to settle in. I jet back to the hotel and find a seat at the casino’s circular bar. As I settle into my chair, order a dirty vodka martini – yes, that IS my drink of choice – I spot Instagram famous Erin Micklow. Her spikes are visible from across the bar. She’s surrounded by people.
By myself however, I warm up for some poker by feeding 2 dollars into the bars gaming system and playing a couple rounds of Texas Hold’em. When my drink arrives, I feed more money into the game - I’m not doing very well. I google ‘poker hands’ and write them down in my notebook from worst to best, ascending.
As I finish my drink and prepare to order another (and before my gaming addiction became a real problem), a familiar accent behind me bellows, “’Ey.” It’s Mike, the X-Ray Spex Australian. He scoots into an open spot next to me, looking to order a drink.
We pick up where we left off, talking about ’77 era punk and Australian culture. He looks up and to the left, rolling his eyes back down to me while lightly jogging in place. “You know Aussie’s inVENTed punk, right” he voice barrels at me.
“That’s a new theory,” I retort. What is this, SLC Punk Goes to Australia?
“It’s not a theory, it’s a fact,” he states, knowingly.
I can hear them playing as I approach the backstage; a loud screech of vocals and some light sax. As I make my ascent up the ramp to the side stage I see the organ player jumping back and strutting forward. He shakes his head and folds one of his arms behind his back. The bassist has a right lean as he taps his left foot to a beat I can’t find.
They baffle me. I can’t find or describe what The Atom Age is.
The organ player rocks his instrument violently off-kilter. He holds it in both hands as he bends halfway forward, trance-like shaking to the music. But I’m too busy to notice much more.
Tension is in the air. Calm and cool all day, it is time for Crazy and The Brains to shine. I loiter in the wings and crack jokes as they pass by. We stick out our tongues at each other as they slowly piece together what is about to go down and get equipment ready for their main stage set.
Suddenly I have to pee. I run to the backstage bathroom and go as fast as I can. The house music comes on. As I rush to the side stage, The Atom Age is in a sweat. We shake hands as they wipe off their post-set steam and move their gear off stage.
Brett walks over to me with a paper in hand, “The song is 3rd. Ya ready?” He’s got his million dollar grin goin’.
I tell him I’m ready and, more importantly, good luck. He bounces on stage and Crazy and The Brains are ready to hit the set. The house music comes down and Crazy and The Brains energy goes sky high. I dance and mouth along. The band always covers Jim Carroll’s ‘People Who Died,’ and I’ve performed it with them once before. Loitering around the hotel this morning, they asked me to join them onstage to perform it one more time.
The larger stage gives them more room to work with and they all take full advantage of it. Chris runs laps around the stage and Ernest wiggles in front of the audience on the left side, then walks to stage right and does the same. The second song ends and I’m ready to go. The music starts to blast again and Chris gives me a warm welcome.
I run up and get my fair share of Brett’s mic. We lean in real close to each other and croon, “These are the people who died, who died!” It’s always an amazing time on a stage of this capacity. We all have room to breathe. I dance and scream and jump and shout. The audience is scattered with familiar faces that sing the words back to us.
I hop off stage as the song ends, blowing kisses at my friends as they continue on.
I hear a banjo strum. A drum set is placed center stage. The upright bassist swings his large instrument around like a dancing partner.
My friend and I are in the far back. I notice lone punks dancing, thrashing, and skanking from the entrance to make their way towards the main stage. The Astroturf is inviting; allowing couples, groups of friends, and the hungover to lounge on the ground, predominantly sticking to the shady parts of the knoll. All around, punks wear their Sunday best. As Larry and His Flask continue to trek on in their Mumford-and-Son- for-punks set, my friend spills his beer and it’s soaked up quickly by the plastic grass. He slowly looks down and raises his hands. He scoops up the doomed cup and cries into the sunny sky, “This is what I get!?” He puts the cup to his lips, attempting to lick the last remaining bits.
“This band has a banjo, I’m outta here,” he moans, turning towards the bar.
I sneak backstage to watch Swingin’ Utters. Stage left has already gathered a crowd, so I head over stage right. Because there isn’t an entrance to stage right, I have to jump a railing to relax there. The lead singer struts about the stage in stiff fashion, never bending his elbows or knees. Looking out, the crowd had grown to a comfortable capacity. Johnny Peebucks has a fierce energy. While this isn’t my scene, they’re tight and Johnny delivers in emotion and presence. He has a purposeful stumble to his gait. Never straight but never falling.
The drummer hits a jungle beat and all the heads nod simultaneously.
The long haired guitarist cocks his hip to his side and drops his jaw. He seems to have hit a sweet beat and rides it. The other guitarist rocks back and forth while he sings towards the mic, popping his butt out in a quarter bow. The guitar solos are simple, but pure.
Brett sits on the stag next to me; legs open, hugging his knees. He leans towards me and yells into my ear, “That drummer is tight, dude.”
A girl on the barricade opens a bottle of water and dumps it on her friend. The friend, shocked and joyous, raises and shakes her head; her mouth opens (tongue and all) as she takes it in.
It’s a sea of mohawks, hair dye, and close shaves. A circle pit starts during Swingin’ Utters last song. As the circle deepens, some charge hard to the beat. Others jump up and down, facing the band and screaming their favorite lyrics as loud as their lungs would allow.
“That was our last song, thanks. UNDERWHELMING.”
I spot The Briefs setting up. I remain calm as they walk by. The stage attire dramatically changes from t-shirts and workers pants to skinny ties, ironic business jackets, and skin tight jeans. They sound check and walk back off-stage. I rush from my perch backstage down onto the barricades. I want to witness The Briefs face-to-face.
The lone drummer on stage hits the toms. The pulse lures out The Briefs. They plug in. Immediately, with a wave of sound, they begin hopping around, robotically strumming, and spitting into their mics some oooooooooohs to lure the power pop out of everyone that witnesses.
“I’m poor and I’m weird, baby.”
They duck walk and side hop around the stage. Underneath their ironic business attire it’s all prints: cheetah and stripes. In electrical tape the bassist wrote on his pickguard, ”KICKS.”
‘Something burnin’ in my eye,” a wide eyed singer, Steve E. Nix hollers.
“Here’s a loud song for you.” They run around the stage, singing into the nearest mic when they need. As the chords melt from one to another, the key slides from one to another, The Briefs all bend backwards in one fluid motion. Chris Brief, the drummer, raps into the mic. He twitches his head with each phrase. Everyone else suddenly stands still. A lull comes over the audience. They stare at us, frozen.
They spring back into a riotous frenzy.
“It’s been a while, but we wrote some new shit,” yells Nix as a roadie feeds Daniel Travanti water. The roadie has his arm fully extended above the guitarist as his body begs forward.
I spot Mark Stern off stage. He mouths every word. The Briefs thank Stern during a musical interlude. He’s on his phone. After the third cheer for him, he finally notices. He looks up in surprise, extends out his arm, and cocks his head as he smiles.
The break room is a quiet place. It’s a vacuum of atmosphere, a place to be stress-free. Bands sit at various tables, separated and excluded to their personal relationships. It’s hard to not feel like I am sitting at the cool kids table. The dudes from Crazy and The Brains munch while I cool off.
“That fucking lo-mein was fire,” one of them exclaims.
Back outsideTurbo Negro is definitely a special kind of band.
”Remember when your president Donald Trump wanted more immigrants from Norway? Well that’s us!” On the back drop a neon leather daddy hat shines down on the stage. The entire group is dressed for, what I imagine would be, a Norwegian rave. The lead singer is large and stocky, wearing a leather daddy hat, army green muscle tee, black knee high socks, and cut-off short-shorts. A guitarist is adorned in a silver space suit with an abundance of zipper pockets. Others are dressed as a farmer and a cop. Everyone has on makeup. Outlines of a broken mirror are painted from the front man’s beard and cheek, reaching up towards his glittery, blacked out eye. Heavy lipstick smears across his lower face.
“I wish I could wake up and wear what he’s wearing every day,” my friend yells into my ear.
“All my friends are dead,” growls the singer.
“All my friends are dead,” shout back the audience.
During a guitar solo, the singer stands on a box in front of the stage, stands wide, leans back, and shimmies his shoulders. He sticks his tongue out. He slinks behind the space suited guitarist and marches in place on this toes.
“Is there any trouble we can get into in Las Vegas?”
Pork magazine type characters dance on the screen behind them. They sing along with the band, using speech bubbles that read, “I’m wasted again.” I spot a sex doll floating in the crowd. A few feet away someone is crowd surfing in a triceratops costume.
“My body is a temple and tonight we’re tearing it down.”
I shuffle around on the Astroturf until suddenly – I realize – I’ve shuffled far enough to be face-to-face with the merch stand for the Briefs. Their merch guy blankly stares at me as Steve E. Nix stands nonchalantly besides him.
“Can I have that coffee stained t-shirt in the smallest size you have?” The merch guy says something in a thick accent that I can neither understand nor recognize. He scoots behind Nix, grabs a shirt, and holds it up for me. I nod and throw him a 20.
“Ya gonna be at the pool party tomorrow?” Nix looks me up and down.
I take the shirt and cock my head sideways, looking back at Steve, “Maybe I just might…”
As I walk away, I hear Nix’s voice float through the crowd, mimicking me, “maybe she just might!”
White suits, black shirts, white ties, and black handkerchiefs. A horn section runs on stage, finding their places in one long row, and begins to wail on various woodwind and brass instruments. The farthest to stage left has no instrument but simply begins to thrash and dance around the way I imagine my step dad does every day (in his bath robe) now that he is retired.
Everyone takes a knee as the singer croons in a long and meaningful way, “theeeeee humaaaaaan onnnnne.”
The trombonist moves forward and power stances. He rocks his trombone back and forth while dishing out a mean brass solo. “Simmer down,” the singer pleads. He’s got a very nonchalant presence - a ‘take it or leave it’ attitude. Maybe it’s the silver fox hair, but he gives me high school gym teacher vibes.
A green polo next to me, suddenly shoots up straight and narrow, yells, “AWESOME,” and bends over to skank. He hunches deep into the groove as the horns player rock back and forth. The lead singer raises his arms high and bounces them from side to side. The audience joins in and follows along.
“How about a little slide trombone?” he asks.
“YAS,” reply a group of girls in my near vicinity.
The trombone runs from side to side and lets his notes attack the audience.
“Give it up for the greatest horn section in the world!”
When NOFX plays a thousand people suddenly have VIP access. NOFX is a 360* show. It’s near impossible to see them. I might not like NOFX, but entertaining and fun, never allowing a moment of silence or lull. They can talk about the weather and they’re fans are all ears.
The classic NOFX banner is digitized and fills the entire backdrop. “Hey, guys in charge of the banner! Can we make the banner smaller, please? This is not like us at all. Can you make our FAKE banner SMALLER… Can you put the dark lord, Matt Skiba, up there please?”
No one listens, the banner remains unchanged, and they jump into another song.
“This song is about Muslims, because they’re worse than Christians or Catholics, worse than Jews. Muslims are not funny. Jews are NOT FUNNY!” Fat Mike stumbles away from the mic, towards the edge of the stage and away from my line of sight. It is so packed, in order to see I have to view through rows of iPhones held up, on ‘record.’ Onstage, every member of every band is there. They want to see NOFX, maybe learn a little bit; witness how to toe the line and make a complete ass of themselves.
“We played a song about Muslims and we didn’t get shot, alright!” Fat Mike proclaims as the song comes to an end. People whistle and throw random items on the stage. “…that sucks, but at least they were country fans and not punk rock fans.”
A couple of ooh’s and boo’s emanate over the crowd. I roll my eyes, eager for the set to be done. Another NOFX band member blurts, “Hey, that’s not cool.”
“Did I offend somebody?” Fat Mike asks sardonically. The topics quickly change from one to another. NOFX never finds something to not talk about.
“Let’s just spend the next 40 minutes talking about how cool LA punk bands are,” Fat Mike bemoans and points to El Hefe, “Mexican, play a cool riff and sound like Santana!”
He walks away to dance-fight with Eric Melvin.
As El Hefe rips into the guitar, the banner reappears on the backdrop, this time much smaller than the previous one before. You can see down below that its security’s time to shine. The crowd is rowdy. Bodies fly through the air and violently roll over the sea of people.
An unknown object flails through the air and whizzes past Fat Mike’s head. He ducks, recovers, and burps into the mic, “I’m like the Keanu Reeves of punk rock.” He contorts himself backwards in a bend and his loose, pink Mohawk, flops about.
“All set up, no punchline,” El Hefe describes the band spitting into the mic, “I think we just destroyed our careers.”
A ukulele and trumpet lay stage left. A woman, I’d later find out is named Whitney, bends her legs and stretches them outward. A man on stage right is slightly hunched, smoking a cigarette. He wears a pink shirt that reads, “Your boyfriend’s a dick.” He doesn’t have an instrument, but he’s carrying around a washtub with a stick and a long string. Another girl with Bob Dylan energy stands to his left sporting brown dreads that help her large sunglasses cover her face. She has a washboard on her chest and scratches it with her hands towards the mic, checking to see if it picks up her sound.
I never see the guitarists face (his worn out baseball cap is pressed real low over his brow), but as he strums, Whitney sways back and forth and occasionally kicks her left foot back. “Life’s a game, life’s a joke,” they wheeze into their mics.
The washtub bass player hunches over his stick and lets a lit cigarette loosely hang from his lips. He bobs up and down as he tightens the rope and releases it. Whitney and the guitarist begin to meow through a verse. She smiles like a crazed maniac into the audience.
“It’s a shit show, it’s a disaster.” Whitney cracks a worried, happy look. She’s fucking up the lyrics. In one snap move, she stomps her foot to attention, closes her legs tight, bends slightly forward and her arms shoot downward with her tiny, balled fists at a right angle. Her trumpet flails outward in her clenched hand and her eyes bulge. The song comes to an abrupt end.
“I’m ready to bum you out.” Whitney scoots to center stage, cradling her ukulele. The other members move out of the way and sit on the floor. They whisper to each other as Whitney begins to pluck away. The washboard player sits away from the audience and ashes into a nearby cup.
“Keep on moving, keep on movin’” Whitney croons. She drops her pick. She looks down, frowns, and successfully reaches for it. Pick in hand, she keeps movin’.
When the song ends, the other members get up and brush themselves off. The guitarist states that a song was requested that the band hadn’t played in some time, and as a favor to their merch man, they decided to add it the set tonight.
The song starts and Whitney places the trumpet to her lips. She struggles with her trumpet parts, flailing and jumping, “I haven’t played this song in 2 months.” She gears herself up for another trumpet part, plays and struggles again, “Aaaaagh…. I’ve got this!” Whitney licks her lips and readies her body, but she struggles again. As the song comes to an end, the guitarist peers over to Whitney and nihilistically chortled, “now for a song we know how to play.”
It’s a long day and I need a long drink, I sigh to myself. I left the club show early to kick back and relax at the casino bar. This time I don’t need to fight for a seat. No one is here, except a guy I recognize from the coffee line earlier this morning. I plop myself into a chair and begin the well-practiced tradition of getting a bartenders attention for service.
“This guy is ignoring everybody,” Starbucks Guy says my way. His elbow rests on the game monitor in front of him; his wrist is bent with his card in hand. “There’s no one here and he’s running around like crazy ignoring us.” A friend sits beside him, nose to phone.
I look back at the bartender and wait a few moments. Starbucks guy wasn’t joking, though, service was not happening. From the corner of my eye, I see him cock his head to look at me.
“Wanna go find somewhere to get a proper drink,” he finally asks me. I shrug my shoulders and we walk off to the next nearest bar, just a corner bend around some slot machines.
We settle into our chairs. I order my martini and he orders a “double shot of vodka with a splash of sprite.” The bartender doesn’t understand and asks him to repeat the request. Starbuck guy leans in, taps his first and second finger on the bar to the beat of his request, “two shots of vodka and some sprite.”
Starbucks guy eventually reminds me what his name is: Jacob. He asks me if I’m a Rancid fan (I’m not). He asks me if I caught Fishbone (I didn’t). He tells me he’s getting an all access pass tomorrow because he’s “kind of a legend in the [stagehand] industry” and then proceeds to tell me a story about crushing both legs with an 8,000 pound speaker. As he wraps up the story a beautiful and tall martini glass is placed before me. I snatch it up by the stem and take a long and hard sip. I’m ready to for a change of scenery.
We walk back to the circular bar. As I turn the corner, I see that the bar is back to full capacity with punks. I can’t find a seat and instead settle into a nearby slot machine chair. Starbucks Guy follows suit and continues to talk my ear off about amazing things he’s done and famous people he’s met. I sip on my martini as I search the bar for someone else to talk with instead. He is starting to creep me out.
I finish my drink. To evade Starbucks Guy, I decide to get up and move to the bar to order another martini. I spot an open seat. I sit down and he follows, but there’s no seat open near me. His friends spot him, instead, and he drunkenly walks back their way.
As I gear up for another round of get-the-bartenders-attention, I spot (for the second night in a row) another person I’ve only ever known online. Walking towards the bar is Starving Wolves guitarist, Kevin. He approaches my part of the bar and takes a recently vacated seat right beside me.
“Excuse me,” I tap his shoulder, “You’re Kevin, right? I think I follow you on Instagrams; I’ve seen you around all day and but never found an appropriate time to introduce myself.”
“Oh hey,” he turns and exclaims to me, “me too! I saw you around the main stage all day.”
Kevin settles into his chair as we order drinks and talk about common connections we have and bands we’ve played with. He reveals this is his 6th Punk Rock Bowling and he came to fill-in on guitar for The Bad Engrish.
The bar patrons come and go. People stop by to chat with Kevin – he’s a popular guy. More drinks are ordered and I can feel the effects of the alcohol and edibles seriously begin to kick in. As more seats become empty, I realize I had yet to eat that day. When I relinquish this news to Kevin and blurt out, “I wanna go to White Castle,” he shrugs his shoulders, closes his eyes, and nods his head in agreement.
So off we were: Jade and Kumar Go to White Castle.
As we exit the Golden Nugget, we’re blinded by the morning rays. It’s dawn and Freemont Street is a wasteland. Everything is closed, save for the entrances to casinos. I squint to shield out the sun and take a sip of my martini.
It obvious we are the lone patrons of the establishment - there are hardly employees – when we arrive. I take another sip of my drink, perusing the menu. Through my alcoholic daze I make out the words I seek and I blurt out, “SICK THEY HAVE VEGGIE SLIDERS. I’LL TAKE TWO.” The line cook turns around, probably accustom to this type of behavior, and hollers, “you can’t have your drinks in here!”
I curtsy out backwards gulping on my martini (and stealing sips from Kevin’s apple cider) as Kevin orders our breakfast. I light a joint and we hang outside with our alcohol until they yell through the plexi glass and onto Freemont Street, “YOUR ORDERS READY.”
WHAT DAY IS IT?
The Golden Nugget Shuffle: When you stay at the Golden Nugget, you aren’t just booking a room; you’re getting a front row ticket to the party. Friends on different floors rub elbows. I run from 7 to 14 to 11. I’m never truly unpacked or settled.
I wake with a start.
What day is it? What time is it? My stuff is everywhere. My roommate is gone but their marijuana remains. I suddenly hear a knock at the door.
“Oh, uh, OCCUPIED,” I stutter.
“You were supposed to check out at 11,” exasperation seeps through the door.
“I’m leaving now,” I eek out as I throw everything I have into my bag, making sure to scoop up the weed leftovers. Back up to the 14th floor, I guess.
I drop off my stuff in my room, running into a hungover friend and his silent girlfriend. Without knowing what to do, I gather all the proper necessary accessories and head back to the pool.
I find the perfect lounge chair towards the left side. The only thing preventing me from reaching up from my chair and grabbing a bite of someone’s lunch from the hotels’ restaurant is the tall window glass itself. I lay belly down and tan, scanning my phone and lathering sunscreen onto my tattoos.
Isn’t there a pool party today? I attempt to recollect. I scour the internet trying to remember when and where and who it was, with no luck. I shrug my shoulders, tune out, and let my earbuds blare Elvis Costello into my ears.
After a good bake in the sun, and a good ponder about where I’ll be staying tonight, Kevin messages me, “hey, still down to split a room?” I have no idea what he is talking about but feeling very blessed in my moment of need. I reply back, “Dude. Yes.”
Half an hour later and Kevin is poolside, handing me the third, and final, hotel key I would possess during my stay at Golden Nugget. Kevin seems anxious and ready to go.
“Hey, well I’m trying to catch this pool show so I gotta go,” rushes Kevin.
“Wait, you know where the show is? With The Briefs?” Kevin nods to all questions.
“Yeah, and it’s happening, like,” he looks down at his watch, “now.”
“I’m coming with you.” I grab my things and jump into my clothes. “Let’s go!”
We walk around a couple blocks in a direction I haven’t taken yet: off Freemont Street. As we walk, I can hear the low hum of distorted guitar. Kevin looks back to me and groans, “I think that’s The Briefs!” We quicken our place and turn around a corner.
The Briefs become blaring once we’re get past security and enter through a large, white picket fence. I break from Kevin and run into the crowd. The band is propped upon a small stage and everyone is in bright colors.
“How are we supposed to play the album from start to finish if you’re leaving songs off the set?” I hear them spit into their mics.
It’s so much more intimate than yesterday’s main stage set. Daniel and the Steve’s are in your face. They hop around and bend forward into the audience. I dance and raise my water cup. The intimate nature of the venue comforts people to be loose. Half buttoned Hawaiian t-shirts and colorful knock-off ray bans bounce in the sun.
You could see Laura on the side of the stage. Guitar slung and ready, she sways back and forth, waiting.
The bassist comes in hard. He sways left and right, rocking the bass back and forth.
“Do you remember?” LJG plays a pink, worn out jazzmaster. She’s wearing baggy mom jeans torn at the knee. The rest of the band is covered in black from their Hane’s tees to low top converse shoes.
Her long hair dances in the wind. She lets go of her guitar and grabs the mic on its stand as she gets into a power stance, lightly bouncing from left to right. Her guitar catches the motion, swaying in the opposite direction like a pendulum.
“Who’s going to take you tonight? Who’s gonna take you home?” She creeps a smile as she sings.
LJG has quick guitar changes in between songs. A roadie runs up, grabs her guitar from her hand. As she bows forward, he holds up the strap of a worn and weathered black telecaster and drops it. As the next song kicks up, it lands perfectly onto her shoulder and she doesn’t miss a beat.
On the black and white backdrop glare a well-shaped pair of stenciled lips floating over a sea of wavy lines.
As the band settles into their set, they jump back and forth. They hit one note and raise their instruments to a drop. They walk around and nod their heads to the same beat.
“Oh Condaleeza do you get the fucking joke?” LJG and Inge Johannson each other off on the giant digital screens high above the crowd. You can sneak a giant grin on her face.
“Are you restless like me?”
Johannson is amped. He runs the stage, jumps up and down, violently thrashes himself forward and back.
“Time goes by so slowly.” Laura Jane Grace marches in place.
“This one is for the punks.” The near full moon begins to loom over the sunset. Akimbo, LJG sings along to the drums. Her guitar hangs low. She raises her hands to the sky, eyes following. The wind blows her hair to cover her eyes and drapes itself over her mic.
On Against Me!’s last song, Brett texts me that he’s got one of those fancy All Access passes to hang out backstage for me. I shimmy through the crowd to the backstage entry and I spot his paisley shirt shining from a distance, bobbing my way. He pops out for a hug and immediately bestows the band to my wrist. I was in once more. I pull him and Chris to the stage to watch X.
The first thing I notice is the same thing I always notice when I see X live: Billy Zoom sitting on his goddamn ass. I’ve never seen the man move. I shrug my shoulders and think, business as usual.
Exene is business as usual too. Tonight, she can’t hear herself. The band shoots a hard glare to my side of the stage – stage left – and point upwards, yelling, “She can’t hear herself.”
“Oh she’s pissed, “someone to my left whisper-yells. Exene lounges about, strutting from the mic while holding her nose with her first finger and thumb. Head bent over like a frustrated mother. Never fully erect, she moves with a slight hunch and a sour face. She pushes and strings out her hair with both of her hands. It bunches and frizzes out in wavy, orange and brown streaks.
Their music has a way to suck you in. Their music is a sense of belonging, of adventure. Song by song, I get closer to the front of the crowd until I am right out front and onstage. I find myself taking fewer notes and rocking more to the beat. Immersed in the moment, I switch my knees, shake my hips, and shimmy my shoulders.
I am dressed how I want to be dressed, on the stage I want to be on, singing along with a sea of strangers and my crazy friends by my side. I raise my head and I cry along, “In this house that I call home.”
Review by Okra Windfrey