Well, it was Day Two, and I was already worn the fuck out. Menzingers played the night before and because of my inane sleep schedule, I got home at three am, then woke up at eight-thirty. Just my luck. But, whatever your level of sobriety or awakeness, Punk Rock Bowling waits for no man.
And besides, this was the big day of the festival for me. My OG heroes, Bad Religion, were headlining. Back when I was still wet behind the mohawk, Bad Religion were the ones who shepherded me into the club– there is no missing Bad Religion, so sleep be damned, I was out in the door.
As for the logistics, Day Two was a step in the right direction for all of us press folks. Most of yesterday’s issues were ironed out and we were ready to party. Security was a little harsher than I remember last year, but only a week after the Manchester attack, it’d have been hard to believe there wouldn’t be changes. Too many of those little things though, and it also starts becoming harder and harder to believe that anything really can be punk rock. It’s a reminder that music and subculture are powerless, no matter how dressed up and resilient it pretends to be in the wake of tragedy. A debate for another day– on to the music.
The Venomous Pinks opened the day with some fast, woah-oh filled punk rock. Kinda hardcore, kinda poppy– like an all female version of Night Birds without the horror and surf lyrical focus. With a little research, I found out that they are apart of the same SquidHat Records family as The Quitters who opened on Day Three. The more you know. Following up The Venomous Pinks were another smaller act, (this is the portion of the day where bands no one’s heard of play, and folks skip for gambling or drinking– which is a shame, because for me, punk rock is absolutely about these young bands injecting new blood into the genre) Ten Can Riot hail from Dallas with a lead singer who doesn’t sound Texan in the least. It’s fast epifat-style jams with some aussie-fied vocals. The crowd wasn’t big, but the folks who were there were receptive to the set and I thought they conducted themselves well enough to keep an eye on in the future.
Lost In Society were a pretty big surprise for me. I had heard a little about them before the festival, I’d heard some good things about their last album, but as is usually the case, I hadn’t actually listened to them before. Seeing them on the stage, I got the lowkey hype surrounding them. They are a tight young band with some big hooks who know how to work the crowd. They brought in everyone who might have just been nodding along with their finale– playing the song “Not Afraid” and teaching the audience its call and response chorus of “Nice to meet you/ FUCK YOU TOO!” Fists were raised and words were sung, it was an awesome end to the set.
I’ll be honest here. I fucking hate celtic punk. It’s corny as hell roleplay for guys who want desperately to belong to a different culture, or it’s corny as hell roleplay for guys who want to engage in a caricature of their own culture. Basically, it’s almost never cool. So, you can probably say The Real Mckenzies aren’t my thing– they have the celtic schtick with the tempering measure of being from Nova Scotia.. It’s almost never cool, but fuck it, I can say it was at least fun. The Real Mckenzies had a sense of humor and looked to be having as much fun as the audience was. They brought things down and gave a surprising (for me, at least) ode to the recently deceased Chris Cornell. It’s nice to see these old guys rocking hard and having a good time while being conscientious of what happens outside of the insular world of punk rock.
The Dickies are one of those old school bands that sound like the Ramones, kinda like the Spits from the days before. They hail back from the early days where punk and garage rock were almost synonymous. Catchy, but not really my thing again. Crowd dug it, but I can’t be into everything, you know? They played their set and I nodded along and let the kids who were into have at it. Sometimes that’s all you can do.
Now, The Bouncing Souls. For me, the Souls were the first big band of the night, and the crowd supported that observation. Everyone was up front for the Jersey boys. I’m a rare breed it seems– there’s an interesting phenomenon with this band, there are the people who don’t care for them, and then there’s the folks that are die-hards (and there are a lot of die-hards)– I’m just a casual fan of the band, not a know-every-word fan. I always wonder what it is about the Souls that bring people together in such an intense way. Maybe it’s that bouncy mix of carefree fun and occasional insight that can take the right psyche and turn one into a True Believer. Either way, of the one other time I’d seen them, this was definitely them at their best. Singer Greg Attonito was genuinely animated and engaged with the set. The energy was good and they ripped through a setlist of singalongs for an adoring audience.
Choking Victim was one of the reasons I made Punk Rock Bowling an unmissable event. One could argue, if you’ve seen Leftover Crack a handful of times, you’ve basically seen Choking Victim. And to be fair, every time I’ve seen Leftover Crack, they’ve made sure to play “500 Channels,” so there is some truth there. But, c’mon. It’s Choking Victim. If you even like them just a little bit, you wanna be able to say you saw them. I was happy to see they got just as strong, if not stronger response than the Bouncing Souls. There was a moment when I looked around and saw all the punks shuffling back and forth, excited as Stza and co. walked on stage and realized: everyone is here for Choking Victim. The front of the stage was packed with punks, for a moment the entire festival ground became part of the crowd. There was no disappointment, they instigated and antagonized with their music (and made sure I got to hear “500 Channels” for a fourth time), with Stza introducing a song dedicated to the police at the venue, about killing cops. It’s not Punk Rock Bowling, and it’s definitely not Choking Victim without a little authority baiting.
The weirdest part of the day wasn’t so much a disappointment as just a bum note. What the fuck was up with Fidlar? They’re fine folks, I’m sure. They play some garage rock/hardcore/ surfy indie rock amalgam, and I know some of the younger kids are into them. They have a little bit of inherited pedigree as one of the members is the son of a member of TSOL. But, no matter what they take from the sounds of punk rock, there is something off about them. It’s like an impression of punk rock rather than an honest interpretation. The crowd agreed too. It was weird seeing so many open spaces in the pit, people looking around, bored and confused at what these rich kids in costume were peddling. Yeah, they had all the moves– they rolled on the stage to play solos and they screamed into mics, but it never felt right. This is punk for kids who go to Coachella. It felt out of place at Punk Rock Bowling.
But, even the weirdness of Fidlar couldn’t really quell the energy of the evening. Bad Religion was going to play. The one band everyone has in common. The gateway band that survives the initial waves of growing taste. Bad Religion are a hard band to grow out of. The crowd moved in a rush toward the stage as the opening notes of “American Jesus” rang out. There was a lot of discussion over what they would open with at Punk Rock Bowling, among the guesses were “True North,” “Against the Grain,” and “Do What You Want” (mine), but Meredith (photographer extraordinaire) and Jeff (friend of Dying Scene, and all around chill dude) nailed the selection. What could me more iconic and rousing to bring the punks together for a headliner? When I’d seen Bad Religion before, they played pretty solid ninety minute sets, so it was actually kind of nice to see a shorter, crisper stage headlining set, about fifteen minutes shorter with a more casual sense of kinship and fun. For Bad Religion, it felt like their thousandth victory lap, and they’re still smiling past the finish line. The set had one extremely notable moment, when NOFX singer/bassist Fat Mike ran on stage in a dress and high-jacked Jay Bentley’s bass to play with the band on “We’re Only Gonna Die.” That’s why you go to Punk Rock Bowling, folks. It’s those kind of moments that you can’t get anywhere else.
They closed with “Fuck Armageddon… This is Hell” as per usual, a song that has become their own “Bro Hymn” over the years. The great thing about Bad Religion though is that they have so much good material to work with, that whatever comes before that is sure to be great. To list all the songs they played would be a challenge (and fucking boring), but you got hits like “Supersonic,” “Generator,” “Los Angeles is Burning,” “Do What You Want,” “Suffer”: whatever they play, it’s gonna be good.
The fest was a-raging that night and despite the weird misstep with Fidlar– who should’ve traded spots with the Bouncing Souls and played earlier in the night– I had to admit it was one of the best lineups of PRB I had ever seen. Choking Victim, Bouncing Souls, and Bad Religion are three pretty huge bands, and I managed to see ‘em all in an evening. That’s killer.
Check out what happened in the photo gallery below and stay tuned for our final installment in our drunken recollections of the beauty and madness that is Punk Rock Bowling!