Punk Rock Bowling – May 26-May 29, 2017
The promoters of Punk Rock Bowling (Shawn and Mark Stern –Youth Brigade, BYO Records) kicked off the 19th annual Punk Rock Bowling with a killer weekend lineup. Concerts were walking distance from The Golden Nugget hotel near Freemont Street in downtown Las Vegas. And if that wasn’t enough, there were a series of Club Shows featuring bands that could easily have headlined the main stage at PRB (in fact, some were headliners). The beauty of this is that we were able to experience top-notch bands in cool venues with small crowds of like-minded punk rock fans!
We Didn’t Know What We Were In For!
We rolled into town on Friday afternoon. Our first priority was to check out the pool at the Golden Nugget and get settled in. This was our first time staying at this hotel and we were pleasantly surprised! The Golden Nugget was walking distance from everything… the Primary stage and event area, the pool parties at the Gold Spike, and all of the club shows (what more could you ask for?!) the Golden Nugget is definitely the best choice when in town for Punk Rock Bowling. We felt like we were in punk heaven from the minute we walked through the doors. Every inch of the hotel was teaming with punk enthusiasts, cruising the lobby bar and the pool areas in their Dr. Martens, patched cuts, and of course, their finest concert t-shirts. The pool was a virtual cornucopia of gluttony, overflowing with pink and blue haired guests gawking at the shark tank that rested as an island in the center of the large, heated pool. Even better, the laughter of the people braving the three-story waterslide that jets guests through the shark tank (in a protective tube of course)! I cannot say enough about the Golden Nugget, they welcomed this eclectic crowd with open arms and made us feel totally welcome and at home. On a side note, I got really sick on Monday morning (I don’t know, dehydration, too much greasy food at 3:00am, beer, beer, or beer) and the hotel allowed us to extend our stay without charge or hassle until I felt recovered enough to start the trek home. That is a rare and impressive action on behalf of the Golden Nugget folks and worthy of a shout out.
Friday night we hit up the Freemont Country Club where we saw The Crowd, Street Dogs, and Vandals. We showed up early and walked in just in time for the sound check at the neighboring Backstage Bar and Billiards where we saw surprise guests, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes. We also managed to steal a little one on one time with Lenny Lashley from Street Dogs and throw back a much-anticipated pint before the club filled to capacity (thanks for the pizza slice Lenny!). Seeing the Vandals in a small club like the Freemont Country Club reminded me of the good old days when they used to play dive bars in the Orange County, California area. It was up close and personal and the energy of the room seemed to push the Vandals to give it their all. My favorite song of the evening was “Pat Brown” which demanded full audience participation and a walk down memory lane to our teen years when “Pat Brown” was almost the anthem of a generation. While the Vandals were, as always, super fun, I have to say the best performance (in my opinion) of the entire weekend came from Boston locals, Street Dogs on Friday night. The band was off the hook, completely motivated by their surroundings and aware of their control of the momentum for the weekend. Singer, Mike McColgan took advantage of every inch of the stage at the 1,000 person capacity club and when he felt like he needed more room, he advanced the performance into the crowd, singing from the security risers and eventually jumping into the pit to get closer to his fans. They were tight, they were in charge of their surroundings, and they were appreciative of having the opportunity to be in Vegas for this incredible event. It made for a memorable show that easily ranks among my favorite nights of live music performances at PRB.
Full Tilt into the Event
Saturday morning started bright and early as the anticipation of the pool party at the Gold Spike pool got half of downtown Las Vegas up and moving and rushing to get in line for a chance at a spot at the tiny pool’s deck to see Sic Waiting, Starving Wolves, and Street Dogs. My recommendation on the pool parties for next year, unless you are on a list with a band, get there early! It filled up fast and security was not taking any shit. It was one out and one in from about 11:00am on. I have to tell you, it was worth the wait! It was like a high school garage party on steroids! Way too much beer for a pre-noon event in 90 degree weather, way too many people in the pool having way too much fun (especially considering that everyone was WAY over 21 and partying like they were 16), and way too much loud punk rock for the neighbors and other hotel guests. The outcome… it was fun, really, really fun! Starving Wolves were really good and the lead singer made it his mission to perform to the crowd that had gathered along the catwalk of the hotel’s outdoor rooms by climbing onto the roof of the cabana area. Everyone loved it and even the security was compelled to turn the other cheek in light of the reaction of the crowd. By the time Street Dogs took to the 10’x10’ stage the pump was primed for an enthusiastic reception from the pool drenched, beer enticed, heat stroked crowd. Street Dogs played that pool deck as if it were an Amphitheatre, owning the day in anticipation of the first night of main venue shows that promised to be beyond memorable. When Mike McColgan of the Street Dogs asked the people in the pool to show him that best damn circle pit he’s ever seen, the crowd felt compelled to honor his request. After all, it was the least they could do for the band that was killing it two feet away from the water’s edge! Make sure you check out the video footage of the pool circle pit for a good laugh! In the end, I would have been satisfied with my weekend at that point. But, the weekend had not even truly started yet and there were more amazing, unforeseeable moments to come.
Saturday night was the Holy Grail for me! Plague Vendor, Interrupters, The Spitz, Off!, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, and Iggy Pop. This was my first time witnessing Plague Vendor live and I walked away saying “What the fuck!”, laughing, and with a new appreciation for their music. Singer, Brandon Blaine is an unstoppable firebrand of punk energy and showmanship. He clearly did not give a fuck about anything, except entertaining the crowd who embraced the band’s hardcore, post-punk, raw sound. Plague Vendor embraced the daylight and the heat that accompanied it, the way too large stage, which they made feel way too small, and the big venue vibe to engage the riled up crowd. The energy reminded me of what it might have been like to see Iggy Pop in the late 70’s; Unstoppable. The whole band plays like they have one chance to prove themselves and Brandon performs like it’s his last. This guy is a ball of induced crazy, climbing into the crowd with the microphone to engage more participation and drawing them into his energy. If you have not seen Plague Vendor do yourself a favor and check them out! Another highlight of the event was meeting Keith Morris (OFF!, Circle Jerks, and Black Flag) in the Dr. Martens tent where he signed his book, My Damage and posed for photos. Headliner for the evening, Iggy Pop, did not disappoint! At 70 years old he is still impressive and his performance was as legendary as one would expect from a punk pioneer like Iggy Pop. His band was hard driving and tight and they managed to play every Iggy Pop favorite including “Passenger”, “I Wanna Be Your Dog”, and “Lust for Life”.
The club shows on Saturday night were, again, unstoppable. Yes, there’s more, and its still only Saturday! Holy shit, the club shows started right after the main venue, not allowing time for lingering or even food. Mean Jeans, The Soviettes, and (Austin, Texas locals) Riverboat Gamblers played the Backstage Bar and Billiards. While the openers were fun, Riverboat Gamblers were their usual selves, full of energy, enthusiasm, and a true blue punk rock sound and performance. Lead singer, Mike Wiebe is one of punk’s best performers today. His energy is unbridled and his ability to deliver unstressed vocals through his onstage antics is skilled. I highly recommend you check Riverboat Gamblers out at any opportunity, especially in a smaller venue.
Sunday, the Day of Rest… Not!
What better band to headline Sunday’s show than Bad Religion? But wait, let’s not get ahead of ourselves, there was so much to see and do on Sunday before Bad Religion ever took the stage! Sunday morning was a little tougher than Saturday morning and I’ll be the first to admit it; I was slow to rise. But, the promise of another great pool party at the Gold Spike kicked my ass out of bed and got me moving. On this day, I was a veteran with a full understanding of three things:
- Eat before you embark on a pool party in Vegas. There’s no food there, only drinks.
- Pack sunscreen and water. Heat stroke will kill the party faster than the Fire Marshall at an overcapacity event.
- Have a game plan for getting into the party. I know, I know, you’re “on the list” or you “have priority entry with your PRB room and ticket package”… NOPE! Not going to work. Figure something else out or don’t drag your heels at breakfast. The lines get long and the promoter will stick to the maximum set by the establishment.
Sunday opened with Slope Records, The Linecutters, Lion’s Law, and Varukers at the Gold Spike Hotel just off Freemont Street. By Sunday people were in tune with what was expected at a PRB pool party. Fully respectable punk fashion replaced bathing suits and trunks and by the time Varukers took to the tiny poolside stage, many had forgone protocol and joined the water play in their Docs, bullet belts, and in full reckless disregard of the integrity of their liberty spikes. It was mayhem, magical mayhem. Like Saturday’s pool party antics, Sunday saw the return of beach balls, water guns, rafts, and the occasional blow up object turned the poolside event into an all out spring break status rumble.
The main venue was host to another amazing lineup including, The Dickies, The Real McKenzies, Bouncing Souls, Chocking Victim, Fidlar, and Bad Religion. The Dr. Martens tent once again drew people in with a meet and greet with the Bouncing Souls who signed free Dr. Martens trucker hats and made small talk with the fans. Southern California natives, The Dickies were great! They sounded good and managed to put on a really fun show in spite of the heat. I loved Leonard’s props, signature vocals, and his transparent joy of being on stage was undeniable. Canadian Celtic punk band, The Real McKenzies were also worth rushing to the venue for. Aside from the apparently unhealthy fixation with being a band longer than Flogging Molly, The Real McKenzies put on a good show. Matt MacNasty (I believe Matt played on Sunday afternoon… Someone please let me know if I screwed this one up) really provided the signature sound for this hard drinking, Scottish representing, folk punk band. The show was hard and authentic and it set the tone for a high-energy night. In case you’ve ever wondered, no, the Scotts do not wear underwear beneath their kilts and boy did the audience find this out. I know way more about the state of singer Paul McKenzie’s balls than I ever wanted to know. It was kilts up and balls out for the entire thirty minute set. I wasn’t too stoked on Chocking Victim. They were really dark and felt like they espoused violence far more than any of the other bands. They even took a moment to call attention to the police at the venue, which were numerous because of recent terror threats to Las Vegas, and sang about killing cops. Needless to say, the local men in blue were less than enthusiastic. Still, they continued to monitor the crown and to stay present, yet distant from the mix. Bad Religion was, well, Bad Religion. They were awesome, tight, on task, and political. A typical Bad Religion show is always a show that you can count on to be good. They played all of the crowd favorites, but Sunday nights show held two surprises in store that made this Bad Religion set a standout. First, they played old Bad Religion, the really, really punk rock, edgy, fast, political, and a bit sloppy stuff… my favorite! That was an unexpected, yet appropriate turn from their usual set list. Second, Fat Mike from NOFX joined them on stage (video available on 13 Stitches Magazine) and he was a beautiful sight! His cameo more than made up for Mike’s absence from the Me First and the Gimme Gimmes set the night before. And, Bad Religion was excited to have him on stage with them, even if it was for only one song. He came in like a hurricane in his prettiest flowered sundress and combat boots and he tore a hole in the stage, making all right in the world if even just for three minutes.
ADVICE FROM A VETERAN PRB ATTENDEE:
- FLY! Apparently it took Southern California residents up to 10 hours to drive home on Monday night. (It took me 34 minutes with a tailwind on Delta Airlines and I got to have a drink in the air-conditioned airport while I waited for my plane)
- Stay at the Golden Nugget on Freemont Street. We stayed in the newly renovated Gold Tower and it was beautiful! We were walking distance to everything all weekend.
- Book your club shows in advance. They all sold out and they were worth going to.
- Get to the pool parties by 10:30am or don’t bother going at all (I hear bringing donuts to the security guards doesn’t hurt either)
- Do a thorough lap around the main venue BEFORE your favorite bands start on day 1. I spent all day waiting at hot outhouses only to find air conditioned, clean, proper portable building toilets at the end of the evening. I also found a lot of food choices on day two hidden at the end of the vendor booths, a find most people didn’t discover until the end of day two.
- Bring money for “stuff”. Some of the best t-shirts and other paraphernalia I’ve seen in a while was on sale at the venue and at the club shows.
- You will spend more money on food and drinks than you think. Vegas is no longer cheap! Bottled water can run up to $4.00 (more in the hotel sundry shop) depending on where you buy it. The venue did have watering stations, but bring a water flavoring drop, the water at the stations tasted like shit!
- Dust off your best collectors/vintage punk rock band t-shirts! This was a true who’s who of band bragging rights. If you don’t have any truly good or original band t-shirts, anti-Donald Trump t-shirts will suffice.
- If you support Donald Trump… Stay home.
- Be brotherly or don’t come. There was a true sense of brotherhood and it was contagious. If you’re coming to be an asshole, you will not be well received.
Sarah Tonin –
13 Stitches Magazine