Better than: Fucking Coachella.
Punk rock has its own festival in the middle of a desert somewhere — Las Vegas. Organized by the Stern brothers of BYO Records and the historic hardcore band Youth Brigade, the Punk Rock Bowling and Music Festival attracts thousands of people from around the world every year. Punk rock enthusiasts anticipate it for months, since bowling, public drinking and punk rock in the middle of downtown Vegas is hard to say no to.
This year's lineup included not just British punk pioneering powers Cockney Rejects, The Adicts, The English Beat and G.B.H., but also NOFX, Pennywise and Rancid.
Tattooed enthusiasts showed up to the makeshift venue set up in an empty lot on 6th Street and Stewart Avenue. It gets bigger and better every year. There were booths repping everything from porn-star themed skateboards and espresso to local raw vegan food.
The English Beat were the first heavy-hitters of the festival to perform on Saturday evening, tooting their horns to their skinhead-reggae classics “Twist and Crawl” and “Mirror in the Bathroom.” Their relaxed two-toned compositions allowed the crowd to frolick and dance instead of push and shove. The Adicts followed up with their melodic sing-along U.K. punk anthems like “Joker in the Pack” and “Too Young.” Monkey, the mime/clown/mad hatter vocalist, always puts on a good show, complete with confetti bazookas and metallic streamers on his microphone stand.
NOFX kicked off their set with the entire band taking a Tequila shot, and proceeded to play their gold record, Punk in Drublic, almost in its glorious entirety. A few technical difficulties fucked up a couple of their songs but they didn't let that ruin their set.
After the actual festival shows were over each day, there were $15 supplementary club shows elsewhere in the city, with equally big acts on the bill. On the first night, No Use For A Name, The Templars and Matt Skiba played at three different bars at the same time. (Some were sold out weeks before.)
If you were somehow able to keep your circadian rhythms in tact, you might have risen early enough for the free poolside noon shows at the Gold Spike. You aren't punk until you've experienced a mosh pit taking place in a shallow swimming pool. The Real McKenzies were on the bill for Sunday and Los Plebes (all the way from Mexico) on Monday. There were bikinis aplenty and the beer was cold; too bad the pool got crowded and the wait time to get in scared a bunch of people away.
Sunday night's festivities included a super rare performance by Cockney Rejects, who were called into action when the original headliners, Sham 69, cancelled just weeks beforehand. But I am sure nobody minded seeing the mainstream innovators of Oi! music perform hits like “I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles” and “Flairs and Slippers.” Hands were in the air clapping to the beat and cheering front man Jeff Turner as he synchronized boxing punches to the beats of their West Ham hymns. Rancid followed up with a bang.
Last night was the least attended of the festival, either because all the punks had to work the next day or because Pennywise's new singer turned everyone off. But they all missed out. G.B.H.'s set included “City Baby Attacked By Rats” and its sequel song “City Baby's Revenge.” (Sadly, no “Big Women.”)
And it turns out that Pennywise's set was one of the best. They showed off their energetic new frontman Zoli Teglas, who brought a refreshing synergy to the band as he performed both their classics like “Society” and new songs as well. The night ended with “Bro Hymn.” As their lead guitarist Fletcher Dragge slowly poured a can of beer on the floor in honor of the fallen bro the song is dedicated to, everyone there sang along to the chorus, and all of downtown Vegas echoed.
Critical Bias: Working a three day punk rock show in Vegas is not for the faint of heart.
Crowd: People with really colorful hair, punk rock couples with matching spikey hair and a lot of local Vegas scene kids.
Random Notebook Dump: Raw vegan chili cheese fries pair awesomely with cheap beer.