It's not as if anyone really needs an excuse to head out to Vegas for the long Memorial Day weekend, but for folks of a punk rock persuasion those dates have been marked on the calendar in indelible ink, like a stick 'n' poke tattoo. Celebrating its 21st birthday — and legally old enough to get hammered — Punk Rock Bowling has grown over the years from a fun little get-together with a handful of bands to a full-blown festival that is arguably the finest of its kind in the world.
Aside from a three-day festival featuring some of the greatest punk bands you could ever hope to see, there are numerous clubs shows, pool parties, a punk rock poker tournament, and, yes, as the name suggests, a bowling tournament. Although, it's quite possible to attend every year and never even see a bowling ball. Indeed, with a second stage added to allow for non-stop music from over 120 bands, you probably won't have time for alleged sporting events. It's impossible to see all the bands, however, so here's a list of 10 of the best for 2019.
1. Killing Joke
Deciding on which club shows to attend can be a nightmare when so many great bands are playing within spitting distance of each other (not that we do the gobbing thing at punk shows anymore). But with all due respect to Sick Of It All and Infa Riot, this Friday night show from Killing Joke is a no-brainer. Let's face it, they could easily be headlining the main stage, but seeing them make their PRB debut in such an intimate setting is an opportunity not to be missed. Their influence, not just on punk but on rock music in general — everyone from Metallica and Faith No More to Ministry and Nine Inch Nails — is unsurpassed, and with 15 studio albums at their disposal there will be no shortage of classic tunes.
As if Killing Joke weren't enough for one night, their opening band — also making their PRB debut — is none other than San Francisco legends Flipper, who have recently reformed (again) to celebrate their 40th anniversary. Like the headliners, their influence cannot be understated — Nirvana and Melvins, to name just two — but as great as the records are, it's the chaotic live shows for which the band are best known. Admittedly, they probably won't beat each other up on stage these days, but with Scratch Acid/Jesus Lizard man David Yow on vocals you'd be wise to expect the unexpected. Unless, of course, you expect a phenomenal show.
It's remarkable that L.A. legends Fear have never played Punk Rock Bowling before, but somehow that seems to be the case. And, yes, we've used the word “legends” before (and doubtless will again) but how else would one describe a band who helped to shape the face of L.A. punk rock? Thanks to a little help from their late friend John Belushi, they were also the first U.S. punk band on national TV, giving a brilliant performance on Saturday Night Live in 1981 that saw them banned for life having caused an alleged $20,000 in damages to the studio. Inimitable frontman Lee Ving, however, claimed that it was $400,000 in damages “because we're professionals!”
4. The Stranglers
Speaking of legends who are playing Punk Rock Bowling for the first time … Hell, where do even begin with the Stranglers? 23 U.K. top 40 singles and 17 top 40 albums! Well, that's a good start considering the fact that those records include such classics as “No More Heroes,” “Peaches,” “Nice 'n' Sleazy,” and a staggering cover of Dionne Warwick's 'Walk On By'. But there's so much more to the Stranglers than hits. Often ostracized by early punks for being too old (oh, the irony) and too musically accomplished, the band carved their own path regardless, frequently running foul of both the music press and the law. A 7th degree black belt in Shidokan karate, founding member Jean-Jacques Burnel also has the dirtiest bass sound in punk. Fact.
5. The Specials
Yet another PRB debut comes on Monday night from main stage headliners The Specials, who were at the forefront of the '80s two-tone movement with such classics as “Gangsters,” “Too Much Too Young” and the hauntingly brilliant “Ghost Town.” Their original run lasted just two and a half years before continuing with a different line-up as The Specials AKA, which lasted until 1984. Having reformed for a “one-off” show in 2008, they've since played over 200 gigs worldwide, winning over a new generation of fans. What's more, there's a new album, Encore, the band's first with frontman Terry Hall since 1981. You'll need your dancing shoes for this one!
6. The Hives
In all, there are about 30 or so bands making their PRB debut this year and it would be remiss not to mention those smart-dressed Swedes, The Hives. Granted, it's been far too long since they put out a new album, the last being 2012's Lex Hives, but that doesn't mean they won't come armed with hits like “Main Offender” and the infuriatingly catchy “Hate To Say I Told You So.” Ranked by Spin magazine among the 50 greatest frontmen of all time, Howlin' Pelle Almqvist is more than capable of getting any crowd on its feet, so several thousand punks should be a breeze.
7. Frankie Stubbs
We mentioned touch choices when it comes to the club shows, right? Well, Saturday night is no exception, offering Scottish lunatics The Exploited at the Bunkhouse Saloon, New York's H20 at the Fremont Country Club and Texas ska outfit Los Skarnales at Backstage Bar and Billiards. But if you fancy something a little more mellow then you couldn't do much better than the gravel-voiced Frankie Stubbs of Leatherface fame, who will be serving up a very rare acoustic show on the Citrus Roof Deck at the Downtown Grand. As the founder of one of the U.K.'s greatest punk bands, Mr. Stubbs will doubtless be bringing a selection of their finest tunes, the sublime “Pale Moonlight” alone making it worth the price of admission.
8. The Damned
What more do you need to know? It's the Damned for crying out loud! Proper legends! Along with the Sex Pistols and the Clash, they pretty much invented U.K. punk rock. They were the first to release a single (the brilliantly timeless “New Rose”), the first to release an album, first to tour the West Coast of the U.S. (hence their sound having such a huge impact on SoCal punk), first to … well, you get the idea. And one would hope that you knew all that anyway if you're going to PRB. It may also be worth remembering that the band are celebrating the 40th anniversary of their magnificent third album, Machine Gun Etiquette, and that they've been know to play albums in their entirety. Fingers crossed.
Whatever your thoughts on all the bickering and legal wrangling that surrounds the Black Flag moniker, there can be little doubt that Flag (minus the Black) are the nearest you'll ever get to seeing the real deal. Given that Black Flag — who should need absolutely no introduction — has had some 23 members over the years, and that Flag has four of the originals, while Black Flag has only one, it's kind of no contest. And, yes, there two bands. Confused? You probably should be. But there's nothing confusing about an arsenal of 30 or so songs that includes such classics as “Six Pack,” “Gimme, Gimme, Gimme,” and “Rise Above.” Rollins-era fans, however, might be thirsty and miserable.
10. Punk Rock Karaoke
It's become something of a tradition to end Punk Rock Bowling in a tiny club with some Punk Rock Karaoke. The last chords have rung out from the main stage, you're tired and drunk, and all you want to do lay your head down on a nice fluffy pillow. But, hey, you won't be seeing some of your friends until this time next year, and what harm would one more beer do? Yeah, right. Before you know it, it's three o'clock in the morning and you're on stage making a fool of yourself with the likes of Greg Hetson and Stan Lee from the Dickies. Sadly, it won't be quite the same without Adolescents founder Steve Soto, who passed away last year, but what better way to honor his memory then forgetting the words to your favorite tune in front of a roomful of drunk punks?