Punk Rock Bowling 2021 - Day 1 - Live in Las Vegas (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Punk Rock Bowling 2021 - Day 1

Live in Las Vegas (2021)

live show

If you don’t come to Punk Rock Bowling looking to do damage, then you’re not doing PRB right. And by “damage,” that’s in the Keith Morris/Chuck Dukowski sense- the drive to reap the most of a situation. Thankfully, at PRB, there are many fruits to pluck. Who would be the best headliner? Who was the secret guest? How would Blag Dahlia manage to do a three hour set during brunch? Who in the right minds would actually get in the pool with hundreds of other punks (cleanliness being extremely suspect)? That’s why, to live life to the fullest, you have to accept that there is no time to rest, and only time to get down.

That’s why as soon as I hit the ground in Thursday evening, I blasted over to my hotel. I kicked open the door to my room, hurled my luggage in, and then sprinted down to “The Place on 7th”, the newest PRB affiliated venue. I barged in just before first wave punk legends Fear took the stage. TPo7 is a great indoor the venue that actually has an outdoor stage, which gives it the intimate setting of a club, without the accompanying dankness, cigarette smoke, and generally feeling of cave dwelling. Fear came out and Lee Ving was in classic tyle. His voice is still a blown out airhorn and the band smashed through about two dozen slammers with most of the tracks pulled from the first album. Fear was just as Fear should be – loud, loose, sloppy, and destructive. There’s a reason why the legends are the legends.

The next morning I ran over to one of the two branches of Zia records, Vegas’ best record store, and one of the better record chains anywhere. As usual, I got a lot of cool CD finds (imported Rolling Stones releases, Roots Radics’ 12-inches of dub) and some very cool record finds (Sloppy Seconds, Coathangers.)

Finally, Punk Rock Bowling was ready to begin in proper! The Darts kicked out a high energy garage meets punk set. Bad Cop/Bad Cop, which drew a huge crowd on the side stage, tore through a high energy set of sugary, but political pop-punk. One wonders if they will be billed much higher, next go around. Todd C’s FYP were a surprise to see on the main stage and they rose to the occasion. FYP was a curious line between first wave punk / hardcore charge and the more accessible pop-punk style sound of the 90s. Also, since the bands tears through high energy song after high energy sound, it can be hard to translate that sound out of the club. FYB had no problem with that and wowed the crowd, somehow brining the big field back to the basement.

Back on the small stage, PEARS brought their self-destructive, but somehow accessible, sound. At this point, the band has established themselves and are in the rarified position of already having wont he crowd before playing a note. To that end, they played with a confidence and ease, sometimes weaving between tight musicianship and loose punk chaos. Back on the main stage, Dillinger Four did what they do and the crowd was into it. Unlike PEARS, who seem to slide in and out of control, D4 have carved a niche where they are totally in command of their instruments, but they make it seem like they actually aren’t.

Back on the side stage, the crowd had completely filled up for the Dwarves, one of my most anticipated sets. The band doesn’t do many East coast tours so it was a rare chance to get to seem them in action. The band has previously mentioned that in a festival setting they play to win. Well, the Dwarves did in fact come to do battle. The band applied a greatest hits strategy and tore from one basher to the next- and the band has a lot of bashers. In fact, even their newest albums were worked into the hits set and the newest jams “Sluts of the USA” and “We Only Came to get High” hit just as hard as the mega classics like “I’m in love with everybody’s girl” and “back seat of my car.” As they are wont to do, the band applied a pop-punk style to their hardcore jams to make them really bounce around the crowd and a hardcore style to the pop-punk tunes to make the catchier tracks hit especially hard. Singer Blag Dahlia sounded excellent and served as both the ringleader and hypeman for the dwarves, repeatedly yelling “The Dwarves are Rock LEGENDS” and “The Dwarves are the greatest band EVER.” Well, it’s nice for Blag to say that, but it was even nicer that the live set PROVED it. One of the highlights of the weekend for sure!

Back on the mainstage, the Menzingers played to a very full crowd and has massive video effects behind, to the point where they really seemed like an arena rock band- also, add to that, “Crowd participation” games, as seen by the likes of any big time rocker. They do what they do well, but it’s just not my thing- there’s not enough raw power or danger… or damage as it were. To each their own. In stark contrast to the big lights reaching of Menzos, The Queers were back at the side stage and blasted through a full set of classic Queers tunes in high energy-in-the-basement style. It was fast and catchy, just as they should be.

As night appeared, Frank Turner was back on the main stage. He cut a few jokes about being English, as he usually does and talked about finally getting to paly live music again. I thought about doing an “impartial, objective” style review (which is an oxymoron in of itself). So, I’ll just say this. Both my pal and I were not into this set. It was slow or mid-tempo, gentle to the point of being soft rock, and was just not inspiring. And not that slow, gentle music is boring in of itself- Stevie Wonder’s more tender tracks are some of the greatest songs ever. But, this set appeared more later-day-Sting than Stevie to me. My pal agreed. I just don’t get it and I don’t get how this isn’t classified as adult-contemporary. To me, there was no fire, no surprises, no soul. But, we were in the clear minority as Turner played to rapturous applause as seemed like a genuine rock star up there. I don’t know what to say. I guess it is me, not you. Back on the side stage, Anti-Flag played to a massive audience. They were energetic and issued broad condemnations. It was fine, if a bit samey.

To cap off the first night of the festival proper, Descendents flew through a wide ranging set, mixing hits and their band new album, 9th and Walnut. I have now seen the Descendents three times, and each time, they have been very good. At PRB, they were EXCEPTIONAL. I don’t know what it was- maybe because they were a substitute act, they felt they really had to come smash it up. Maybe they were just really on point. The crowd was enraptured. Singer Milo had a water bottle looped around his torso like an ammo belt and he would sneak drinks between songs- it was loveably comical. They kicked out a massive 30 songs, but it was so hyped up the set felt like it was over just as it began. In fact, the band seemed to be surprised that they had already flashed through thirty songs as their energy at the end was even higher than before. It sure is nice when the legends are legendary.

After the festival proper ended, I flew back on down to the place on 7th. I got in just in time to see Dog Party. The duo have been rocking for almost a decade now and they are refining and honing their sown into perfect rock essence (with a little country here and there). The band has some new songs and they sound better than ever. The band really proved themselves with their last three albums and they did it again with a fast and jacked up set at PRB. After Dog Party, Mean Jeans came out in fine form. You can never tell if the band is acting or really are a bunch of knuckleheads- on stage, they debated which songs to play, and even said something along the lines of “we’ve got some good songs to play for you, but we’re gonna play a few others first.” Of course, all of their songs pretty much rock the hell out and are great. The band is surprisingly able to walk the line between Ramonescore and 80s cheese rock without every falling too far into one or the other. They played a few jingle tunes as well as their harder hits like “tears in my beer.” In fact, they rocked so well, it suggests the knucklehead act is just that… and “Act.”

The evening ended with one of PRB’s biggest surprises. Lunachicks headlined the club show and it was their first set in almost 20 years. Honestly, I didn’t know much about them before the set and afterwards, I was a huge fan. Wearing dayglo get ups, the band smashed out 90s punk style (with some harder grunge and metal edge here and there) and took an askew stance on riotgrrrl music and feminist music all while being really, really funny. “Jerk of all trades” was an especially great number as were the moments where they really got down and smashed out, low rumbling, hard hitting destructo-sounds. It’s great to see your favorite bands destroy it at PRB. It’s equally great to see bands you don’t know do the same.

After hanging with a few friends for a little while longer, I crashed out between 4-5am, with the alarm set optimistically for 10am… more record stores did await the next morning…