Punk Rock Bowling 2015
Day 1: May 22
One can never be prepared for a festival as monumental as Punk Rock Bowling: where thousands of punk rockers, hardcore kids, skaters, etc. all flock to Sin City to spend three days in the scorching heat, listening to live music from some of the best bands of the genre. I set out to the Mecca of Punk Rock one day before the pinnacle of festival shows took place.
Trekking through Fremont Street, I passed sold out club shows where the likes of Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, Manic Hispanic, 7 Seconds and Street Dogs were playing. My destination that night was 11th Street Records—the occasion: Anti-Flag‘s acoustic pre-show—both Justin Sane and Chris #2 played acoustic versions of classic A-F songs like “This Is The End,” “One Trillion Dollar$,” and “Turncoat,” as well as brand new ones like “Brandenburg Gate” and “Without End.”
Sane stood on his proverbial soap box, ranting about corporations and corruption in the world but right before they played “Broken Bones” he dedicated it to the friends he had lost to suicide. He said that anyone with such thoughts should address them, because there is always someone out there who will listen. They ended with the anthemic “Die for Your Government” where everyone ripped through the chorus and even jostled a crowd surfer.
Everyone hung out in the record shop, browsing through vinyl and crowding around #2 and Sane for autographs, pictures, and conversations. I expressed my excitement to Sane on the show tomorrow and he encouraged me that they would not disappoint and said to not be late.
Day 2: May 23rd
Well-rested, I sought out things to do during the day. Well, at PRB there’s always something going on—at the Plaza Hotel, there was a pool party in which the British Oi! bands Abrasive Wheels and Infa-Riot were playing. Being that it was about 95 degrees outside, people were ecstatic to kick it in the pool and listen to some skinhead music.
I headed out to the festival when, thankfully, huge cloud blocked the merciless sunrays, creating a wave of relief for all attendees. I got in right as Sniper 66 were getting onstage. Clad in mohawks and torn shirts, they blasted the stage with their street punk sound. Next up were Bombshell Rocks, who got the audience dancing with their Clash-inspired ska punk sound. Soon enough, the evening wore into the portion of the fest that included the bigger bands, starting off with Anti-Flag.
Sane and #2 greeted the audience and in unison began to shout “Turncoat! Killer! Liar! Thief!” and the audience erupted into a circle pit. The songs were more or less the same as their prior acoustic set, with the exception of “This is the End” and inclusion of “The Press Corpse,” “Fuck Police Brutality,” “This Machine Kills Fascists” and “Cities Burn” with the Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go.”
They finished off with a bang during “Die for the Government,” where Pat Thetic brought his snare, hi-hat and bass drum to the crowd and #2 stood on it with his microphone stand with everybody jumping over fellow crowd members to scream into the mic, “You gotta die, gotta die, gotta die for your government! Die for your country? That’s shit!”TSOL was the next band to grace the stage with a cohesive set of songs including “Terrible People,” “I’m Tired of Life,” “Fuck You Tough Guy” and “Abolish Government.”
Along with an awesome set, Jack Grisham (vocals) managed to work in some hilarious banter about necrophilia and how many people lose their virginity in their parents’ beds. While TSOL was the most entertaining band that night, Sick of it All was the most wild! The NYHC pioneers took the stage and all the hardcore kids in the crowd moved to the front. Lou Koller shouted into the mic “Lookin’ back on what we had,” and the audience responded, “Whooaaa, ohhhh!” and the pit opened up while “Good Lookin’ Out” drove the insanity.
They continued to shred through their set with pounding tracks like “Step Down,” “Injustice System,” “Clobberin’ Time” and “World Full of Hate” while guitarist Pete Koller and bassist Craig Setari constantly jumped from one side of the stage to the other. While the crowd was dominated by the circle pit, there were still a few old school hardcore guys who threw down to the signature New York “chug”—complete with a flurry of punches, kicks and slam dancing.
“Holy shit!” I thought after the set. “There are still two more bands!” I hung back while the hardcore kids up front traded places with the moonstompers getting ready for the Mighty Mighty Bosstones to come out. The Bosstones took the stage, kicking off with “The Old School Off The Bright” and everyone (even the spectators in the back) got their skank on.
The Bosstones are the proof that ska didn’t die in the ‘90s—everyone got into their set, whether they were old-time, diehard fans, or patent newcomers who just wanted to sing to the chorus of “The Impression That I Get.” They played classics like “Hell of a Hat” and “You Gotta Go” and invited Kevin Bivona of The Interrupters on the stage for “Nah Nah Nah Nah Nah” and put in “The Ballad of Candlepin Paul” in reference to the bowling festival. After closing their set with “Holy Smoke,” I moved to the front, once again, to prepare for Rancid.
As time passed, the crowd grew more restless, with chants of “Out come the wolves!” radiating throughout the audience. Then the PRB backdrop was switched out with banner bearing the band’s spray paint logo and the crowd went nuts. Soon enough, the proverbial intro to …And Out Come the Wolves started reverberating from the speakers then the four members took their spots on the stage and jumped right into “Maxwell Murder” and continued to play their seminal album front to back. Everyone up front had to get comfortable with the people surrounding them, because we were packed in there like pendulous sardines.
I was excited to hear staples like “Roots & Radicals,” “Time Bomb,” “Olympia, WA” and “Ruby Soho” but I gave the biggest cheers to the ones that were rarely, if not ever, played live. “Daly City Train,” “Disorder & Disarray,” and “Avenues & Alleyways” were rare live gems that got people wilder than their well-known songs did. Even after hearing …And Out Come the Wolves in its entirety, the crowd still demanded more.
In the midst of the audiences chanting they walked back on the stage, Tim Armstrong stepped up to the mic and began to sing, “Never fell in love ‘til I fell in love with you,” and the audience replied, “Never knew what a good time was ‘til I had a good time with you.” Branden Steineckert slammed on his cymbals, Matt Freeman began to pluck away at his bass and Rancid were back on stage with “Radio.” They used up the rest of their set with “Nihilism,” “Honor Is All We Know” and, of course, the anthemic “Fall Back Down,” ending it on the positive message of keeping your loved ones by your side.
So far, the festival had been pretty solid—I managed to walk my sore, sweaty, aching body back to the hotel to rest up for Round 2.
Day 3: May 24
After dealing with the struggles of my sore body, I managed to limber up enough to return to the Plaza Hotel for yet another pool party with 88 Fingers Louie. Today, however, the heat was glossed over with some much-needed rain, so less people in the pool and more people in the pit wearing nothing but flip-flops and bathing suits. The sun continued to sift through the clouds throughout the day but it never got too hot.
I worked my way to the festival just in time to see Pears play. I have heard Pears and are a band I would not want to miss, and I am I glad I didn’t! They were just amazing! Frontman Zach Quinn took a few pages from Iggy Pop’s book on being a showman—Quinn was so springy he seemed to be made of rubber. Their sound was raw yet meticulously structured—no two songs sounded the same. They even did a solid cover of Ramones’ “Judy is a Punk.” Ever so rarely I buy a CD from a band I just heard, but I had to get their music instantly—they were that good.Soon after, The Muffs took over with their SoCal punk sound with guitarist/vocalist Kim Shattuck making wisecracks in between her raucous shrieks.
About halfway through their set, Brian Pretus the guitarist for Pears, walked onstage with his girlfriend. Pretus went on to say how she introduced him to the Muffs when they met three years ago and had since been an inspiration for him. Feeling that the setting was as good a time as any, he proceeded to get down on one knee and proposed to her. She responded, “Yes,” and they embraced.
I moved to the front after the Muffs finished and A Wilhelm Scream took up the stage with their intricate rhythm patterns, poetic lyrics, and shredding riffs, including hits like “I Wipe My Ass with Showbiz,” “The Horse” and “Mute Print.” During their set, I caught my first glimpse of Jello Biafra, probably the most well-known punk rocker at PRB—who seemed to be doing vocal warm-ups. I was only minutes away from seeing one of the people I’ve idolized since I started listening to punk perform before my very eyes.
The Guantanamo School of Medicine opened their set with the psychedelic sounds “Strength Thru Shopping.” As the music progressively rose toward its climax, Biafra entered from stage right clad in a brightly colored blazer and, with some anomalous dancing, got the audience riled up. Of course, Biafra went on his intricate rants about feudalism, the Manning/Snowden campaign, talking shit on the Tea Party and how it’s not the “brown people”’ who are taking away our jobs, it’s the people on Wall Street.
He managed to squeeze in a few Dead Kennedys songs in the mix including “Nazi Punks Fuck Off,” “Holiday in Cambodia” and “California Uber Alles” in which he replaced Jerry Brown with Arnold Schwarzenegger as the subject.
Night soon fell over the festival, and the stage was flooded with pink lights and smoke, the Turbojugend worked their way to the front of the crowd whilst chanting “I got erection!” The sound of an air raid siren ripped through the chants as Turbonegro took the stage. Despite the absence of Hank Von Helvette as lead singer, I was excited to hear songs I’d been jamming since I was fourteen to be hurled in my face.
Their current singer, Tony Sylvester (aka the Duke of Nothing), while not able to match up to Helvette as the flamboyantly charismatic frontman, still did a decent job making the performance his own while paying homage to Velvette. They cranked out classics like “F.T.W.” “All My Friends Are Dead,” “City of Satan,” and “Age of Pamparius” with a cover of Cheap Trick’s “Hello There” thrown in for good measure.
They closed out with “I Got Erection” in which they split the audience into what they call the Wall of Deathpunk in which one side would sing “Whoa-oh-oh!” and the other side would follow with “I got erection!”
Murder City Devils had the worst luck once they took the stage, having to be shut down halfway through due to lightning. People restlessly waited for it to pass—some speculated that it would shut down for the night. However, after about 15 minutes, the Devils came roaring back on stage and cranked out the last half of their set despite the time cut.
The rain continued to drizzle all the way until Refused walked on, making the intro to “Elektra” all the more intense. The circle pits’ diameter reached its maximum throughout gems like “The Shape of Punk to Come,” “Liberation Frequency” and “Deadly Rhythm” where they included a snippet of Slayer’s “Raining Blood” for all the metalheads in the audience. Frontman Dennis Lyxzén’s vocals were still powerful and had no trouble keeping the crowd excited.
They closed out with “Worms of the Senses/Faculties of the Skull,” an anti-capitalist anthem that spoke to a generation of punks. While it was exciting singing those lyrics, I couldn’t help but address the irony of the situation—Refused have stood on their soap box protesting about capitalism, yet ever since their reunion they’ve refused to play a show for under $10,000 dollars—kind of goes against what their lyrics say. However, minus the politics of punk rock, Refused still kicked ass live and I’m sure fans got their money’s worth.
Day 4: May 26
The last day of PRB was met with mixed feelings of relief, exhilaration and disdain. I headed to the Plaza Hotel once again where the final pool party was taking place with Sniper 66 and Booze & Glory. While I was there, I ran into none other than the mastermind behind PRB, founder of BYO Records, and lead singer of Youth Brigade, Shawn Stern. Stern was being surrounded by fans who told him how thankful they were for putting this festival on every year.
He stood for every picture and answered every question they had, all with a smile on his face. Thinking that was going to be the only punk legend I’d meet today, I headed out to the festival for the final time and visited the merch tents. I stopped by Agnostic Front’s tent to buy a shirt and who should stop by but Roger Miret himself. Unfortunately, he only had enough time to only pose for a picture and he was gone.
I walked some more to find none other but Vinny Stigma sitting outside one of the tents, peddling guitars for the raffle prizes as well as signing any merch they had. Next to that was a line beginning to form around the Alternative Tentacles tent— the occasion: Jello Biafra’s Meet and Greet.
I stood in line for 40 minutes, watching the Mahones’ set from afar. While it was a bummer I couldn’t be closer, I knew that I probably wouldn’t meet Jello Biafra again and I had my Dead Kennedys CD sleeves with me for him to sign. When my turn came, I presented the sleeves to him, but before he signed them, he had to make sure they were the ones that were released before he was sued by his former bandmates.
He wasn’t able too talk to long, as there was a quarter mile of people behind me, but I got what I came for—to shake his hand, have him sign my CDs, and thank him for his lyrics getting me so enthused about punk music. I moved back to the crowd to watch The Business finish their set out. A slew of skinheads dominated the audience as they all sang the lyrics to “Loud, Proud, & Punk,” “Fight an Enemy,” and “The Chosen Few,” with a fair share of “Oi!” chants thrown in.
$wingin’ Utter$ played an alluring set despite being drained of energy. They still played solid with their dual vocal harmonies and melodic riffs with songs like “We Are Your Garbage” and “Tied Down, Spit On” getting favorable reactions from the crowd.
Once again, all the hardcore kids moved to the front as Agnostic Front clambered up on the stage. Agnostic Front threw down with Stigma’s heavy riffs and Miret’s guttural vocals charging some aggressive circle pits. They ripped through their set with brand new tracks like “Old New York,” “Police Violence” and “Only in America,” as well as classics like “United Blood,” “For My Family,” and “Gotta Go” rounding it up with their cover of Iron Cross’ “Crucified” and closing with a cover of the Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop.”
Conflict then took over with their wild, heavy, old-school anarcho-punk enticing the biggest circle pits of the night. Vocalist Colin Jerwood showed off his unfiltered energy through his performance , jumping off the stage to get more personal with the audience. As one of the oldest bands on the festival, they proved that they are still as relevant as ever with both old and new fans screaming their protest-fueled lyrics.
The stage was soon empty again, getting ready to make way for the final band of the festival. It didn’t take long for the audience to in the proverbial “Let’s go Murphys!” chant while Sham 69’s “If the Kids Are United” played over the PA. They heeded the audience’s call and with his bagpipes, Scruffy Wallace led Dropkick Murphys into “Cadence to Arms” while the rest of them filed out onto the stage to traverse into “Do or Die.”
They continue to play the tracks from Do or Die in chronological order, complete with fan favorites like “Caught in a Jar,” “Barroom Hero” and “Boys on the Docks,” and rarities like “Never Alone,” “Road of the Righteous,” and “Far Away Coast”—a fitting track for Memorial Day. A few days prior, there was a heavy rumor going around that the Murphys’ original singer Mike McColgan would be performing their album with them—however, it proved to be false.
I was still ecstatic to hear my favorite Murphys album be performed front to back, but it would have been better and more authentic if the original vocalist was singing it. Either way, Al Barr and Ken Casey played the songs solidly, ending it with “Skinhead on the MBTA” and covers of Gang Green’s “Alcohol” and Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s “Takin’ Care of Business,” inviting the crowd up onstage to sing with them.
The encore was brought on by the classic “Olé” chant and they came back pounding with a cover of the Bruisers’ “Iron Chin” with Vinny Stigma offering his vocal chops to the song. When they announced they were going to play three more songs, I kept thinking that they were going to jump into “Shipping out to Boston,” but they, to my surprise, refrained from that song to play “Citizen CIA,” “Rose Tattoo” and “Workers’ Song,” bringing the set and the festival to a satisfying end.
Thus ended the trek of Punk Rock Bowling 2015—I spent five days total in the middle of the desert moshing my brains out to some of my favorite bands. The result: my voice is gone, my legs are chafed, my feet are sore, my ears are ringing and my mind is consumed by wholesome feelings of contentment!
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