Traveling to Las Vegas while nursing the effects of a broken heart, I am all too aware that the romantic appeal of this colorful hellhole is a bit lost on me. This place quite literally represents the euphoria of broken dreams. Even the bright lights can’t eclipse the desperate smiling faces that fail to shine through the scum and filth of the streets. I’ve always loved punk, as it seemed to provide a moral backbone to rock n’ roll, giving it a philosophy filled with romantic notions while critiquing the very fabrics of the society it resides in. Though, I confess that the spirit of this musically led agitation seems to overcasted by the overwhelming hedonistic atmosphere that only Las Vegas can contain. This is, no doubt, extenuated by the fact that one can experience a sense of freedom by opening up a beer and drinking in the streets with nobody really giving a shit. The feeling of irony regarding this whiskey-fueled rebellion is not lost on me, however, as the first thing I do after checking into the hotel is running off in search some Newcastle Brown Ales.
Punk Rock Bowling invites the positivity of the punk community, allowing everyone and anyone to see bands that they can knock off their bucket list. This festival invites a vast and diverse array of people influenced by this subculture. One can see skinheads, rockers, crust punks and, of course, the spiky hair punk rockers that make up the popular novelty postcards. Bringing in all ages and nationalities, Punk Rock Bowling tempts the die-hards and those bringing in the new generation of acne-covered adolescence. For three days, the differences in the subculture are put aside for the sake of enjoying the gigs, producing an image of symbolic unity, that may otherwise be forgotten at home. These reasons and this year’s lineup are perhaps why I am attending Punk Rock Bowling for the third time.
The first day of the festival is highlighted by a pleasant atmosphere helped along by the cloudy, soon-to-be-rainy weather. More importantly, though, are tonight’s acts. Peter and the Test Tubes Babies take the stage, knocking numbers like “Up Yer Bum” and “Maniac” to the growing audience. When Angelic Upstarts come up next, the place goes mental. Drawing in the audience’s attention, they let loose a fury of working class and anti-fascist numbers, to the enthusiasm of their captive audience. Songs include “I’m an Upstart,“ “Woman in Disguise,” “Teenage Warning” and “Last Night Another Soldier.” But it is when they play “If the Kids Are United,” a true punk anthem that espouses the ideals of unity in the scene, that I get a strong feeling. It is all I can do to not stop myself from taking notes so I can join in with my fist in the air in solidarity.
The Slackers followed next with their ska-infused tunes. Taking on the punk-infused wake left by Angelic Upstarts, Anti-Nowhere League takes to the stage. Animal’s dominating presence demands nothing short of total attention, which is powerfully delivered via an intense scream into their anthem “We Are the League.” Wasting little time for pleasantries, they rip through “Lets Break The Law,” “I Hate People” “Snowman” and “Chocolate Soldiers,” much to delight of the assembled mass. Even with these hits, my thirst for the Anti-Nowhere League brand of hard punk rock is not yet satisfied. Having seen them before, I’ve an inkling of what is to come and I am not disappointed. They blasted my favorite catchy, crass number “So What,” followed by my other favorite “Pig Iron.”
If Anti-Nowhere League had headlined this evening’s festivities, I would have been content. However, my night had only just begun, as Cock Sparrer was next. I had seen them once before, at the Rebellion Festival years prior, inside a venue and that was chock-full of people. Playing in an open-air festival, one gets the idea of how popular these guys still are. Leading in with a piano solo, they launch into “Riot Squad” to the jubilant cheers of the crowd. Cock Sparrer’s presence onstage seems to offer some sort of symbolism for unity through hard riffs. Everyone again is inspired to bring their fists to the air in total solidarity. Cock Sparrer continues on with “Working,” “Droogs Don’t Run,” “Get a Rope” and “Argy Bargy.”
However, it is when they play “Where Are They Now” that the theme of tonight’s entertainment seems to come to light. Most of the songs performed seem to offer a critique of punk. They offer the hard reality of working life compared to lofty idealism of the first wave (’76-’82). Their encore brings on two well-known crowd pleasers “Take ‘Em All” and “England Belongs to Me.” Something interesting about the latter number, despite it being a song seemingly meant toward the English: It holds overwhelming popularity for all in attendance, providing some sort of relevance for all people who hear it.
After the festival lets out for the first night, I nip over to a club show. Getting in right at the end of the Night Birds set, I catch The Briefs’ knockout performance. Not wanting to wait for ALL (as their setup takes forever), I make my way back to the hotel.
If lightning had struck me down, I would have died a happy man. As this clearly did not happen, I approached the second day with eagerness to see more great acts. Unknowingly, I was also about to get reacquainted with the vicious oppression of the sun combined with the infamous Las Vegas heat. Catching Masked Intruder, SNFU (who still kick ass) and The Dwarves, I was more than ready to see The Adicts. Seeking a better vantage point, I took to a bleacher and melted into my seat. Dressed in their droog-inspired attire they blasted off into their rock n’ roll–styled “Ode To Joy,” following it quickly up with “Joker in the Pack” and “Smart Alex.”
I’m well versed in the spectacle that is an Adicts performance—their shows are nothing less than one giant party. Delivering the sheer majesty of an experience like rock n’ roll Mardi Gras hosted by the Joker, The Adicts combine the intensity of punk rock with the flare of glam. Any self-respecting rocker should experience this whilst on the road to enlightenment. Knocking out numbers “Easy Way Out,” “Numbers,” “Steamroller” and “Chinese Takeaway,” the audience goes nuts. The Adicts wind down their set with the hit “Viva La Revolution” and “Walk On,” leaving the stage in class whilst singing along to “Bring Me Sunshine.”
Face to Face, a quintessential pop-punk band from the ’90s, lacks any definitive intro. They simply jump into their set and begin carrying out heavy riffs, combined with a rockabilly feel, which are backed by prominent, harsh vocals. Unfortunately, this does little for me, as it comes across as a bit too flat and poppy. Riding on the building excitement, Descendents take the stage, roaring out their hits “Everything Sucks,” “Suburban Home” and “I Don’t Want To Grow Up” to the pleasure of their excited fans. In the reaction to this poppy frenzy, the audience starts to move back and forth as if there was seismic activity beneath their feet. Clearly, the love for pop has not died out with the ’90s.
The final day the festival starts out with an attempt at forced entry in the hotel room I was staying in by some drug-addled individual. I assisted with pinning this clown against a wall, hoping that security would perhaps show up and take out the trash. I was determined not to let this, and the later—what seemed like a proposition from a thorough security examination whilst entering the festival—put a damper on my day. Notable band like Leftöver Crack, Against Me! and NOFX played the closing night to the cheers of the remaining fans, knocking out hit after it. However it was OFF! that truly carried today’s lineup. Giving a brutal and raw set that provided solid evidence that Keith Morris (Black Flag, Circle Jerks, OFF!) still knows how to command a stage. He even takes the time to bash the opportunism of the merch vendors.
NOFX closed out the festival. Their presence provided a time slot being filled, rather than providing me with entertainment. The concluion of this year’s Punk Rock Bowling perhaps came a little too soon for me. This year carried an impressive lineup, some fantastic club shows and, in the end, I did leave content.
Making my way into the Fremont area, records in hand, I’m still looking for kicks. This being Las Vegas, I’m sure I’ll find some. Viva.