The day before ended in Bad Religion, one of the greatest bands the scene has to offer, continuously kicking it until they kick the bucket. And Day Three was the end of it all, the final day for the punks to don their denims and get out into the sun, to dance and sing and hug their new friends. Day Three felt like a long farewell– a little less hectic, a bit more casual, and still a helluva lot of fun.
Press and VIP lines were a breeze and I got in with no problem at all. To give the new venue credit, each day steadily improved. This is also fair time to mention everything that was happening at the fest that weren’t people with guitars, bass, and drums. Vendors packed the left side of the venue with shirts, hats, records, CDs, tote bags, wallets, necklaces, patches, stickers, with a dozen etceteras. Always a sick reminder that there is not only a cool world out there of punk stuff, but there are also people out there creating it. Doc Martens might have had the most inspired festival booth, featuring big piles of deflated beach balls up for the grabbing. By the end of the night, there were over twenty being pushed around in the pit. I’m not a big fan of Doc’s, mostly because they don’t fit my feet, but even I could admit it was a pretty sly move.
Onto the music! The first band of the day was The Quitters. I was actually pretty stoked to hear them based on the recommendation of DS lens-jockey Cricket Fox. They played first, so there was nowhere near a big crowd (and also, the festival starts a bit earlier on the last day, so you know, folks might be sleeping or something like that), but they rocked it. They played an old school kind of punk rock, stuff that is snotty and fun without being pop punk, and loud and shouty without being hardcore. Its the sort of music that if you wanted to create the original ink drop from which all of punk bled out of (ruining some fine parchment in the process), this would be at the tip of the fountain pen. A real cool blended sound of forty years of music, from Descendents to Refused. Their beats were surprisingly danceable too, as even the security guards were breaking characters and nodding along. The Quitters are awesome, check ‘em out when you get a chance.
Roadside Bombs played next. I would describe their sound as a sort of a throwback thing, like a ‘77 punk amalgam with a bit of classic rock thrown in there. It wasn’t too bad, not really my thing, but I thought they performed well. The next band, Wolfpack might get the award for most interesting bio of the weekend. I was watching them intently, mystified by what I read in the pamphlet: they’re a Melbourne not-for-profit band. Crazy, right? Looking at their bandcamp page, they say they’ve raised $26,000 for charity. Even weirder, and maybe cooler, depending on your predilections, is that the band is led from the back by the drummer. Aside from their tax status, they were pretty dope, playing a pretty riffy style of metal-infused hardcore punk.
Day Three was all about Oi! though. Cocksparrer was headlining and they wouldn’t be the only working class punks to grace the PRB stage. This was the year of street punk and oi. Lion’s Law was the first band to start playing the style in earnest and got my attention for being from one of the least oi places I can think of– France. I thought it was pretty cool, and strangely, a natural fit for the naturally surly French accent. It also made me think about how French punk has been getting more and more attention lately with the likes of Lion’s Law, Guerilla Poubelle, and Not Scientists.
And then, in a weird sort of double feature, we had another oi band playing. This was England’s Booze & Glory, and a lot of folks were here for them. I hadn’t heard of them before the festival, but street punk and oi aren’t styles I follow very closely. I’m also not afraid to admit I’m in the minority though, because from day one I saw tons of punks rocking Booze & Glory shirts. I was starting to get the vibe that these guys were the next big thing in their scene. As far as their sound goes, I mean, I’m not sure what there is to describe. They sound like a band that wears suspenders and throws back pints of lager. The real test of mettle for a band like this is in their songwriting, what they can communicate that all the other hooligans with guitars haven’t been able to do before, or to do it now in a way that’ll communicate it to a new generation. Judging from the crowd, Booze & Glory are a torchbearer for their sound. My only issue is with the placement of these two bands on the bill, while I’m sure their audience dug ‘em a lot, it all bled together for me.
As any dude who likes melodic punk bands, the occasional Dan Yemin hardcore project, and folk punk; I also inexplicably love Tragedy, His Hero Is Gone, and anything else that is crusty and patches well on flannel. And that is why I was stoked to see Discharge. The originators of D-beat, true harcore pioneers, and one of the major influences to a lot of my favorite modern hardcore. For such an old fucking band, they killed it. They had tons of energy and ran through a set that felt like a machine gun peppering of shredded solos and barked declaratives. Of all the acts of Day Three, Discharge might have been the most intense to witness.
I was warned about the Adicts before I got to Vegas. I didn’t have a lot to go on, y’ know? I was told they were great live, but I never really listened to them. I mean, I’m not a big face paint guy, bands with a huge visual presence always felt weird to me, same with bands in costume. I don’t know, it’s one of those things that never really felt right. I mean, I don’t even like the Misfits– what do the Adicts have to offer?
It’s nice to be wrong.
When the confetti cleared, the Adicts were my favorite act of Day Three. This isn’t just punk rock, it’s spectacle. While watching them play and dance; throw cards, balloons, and streamers into the audience, I experienced, what I can only assume, is pure joy. My initial worry was of a band that takes themselves too seriously, who take the imagery from A Clockwork Orange and use it as a way to secure some false sense of danger, when its really just adolescent pageantry. The Adicts know exactly what they are, they embrace the silliness– and most of all– they want you to have fun. They’re a fun band that puts on a fun show. Why else would you wear a cape made of mirrors? It’s ridiculous fun. And their music works with the show they’ve crafted. It’s singalong ‘77 style punk, the kind of stuff that got me singing along without ever hearing a word before. The Adicts are amazing, a punk rock treasure that needs to be seen to be believed.
The light was waning after the Adicts wrapped up and I was left in a bit of a state of awe. I mean, what band can really follow that up?
A lot of people have mixed feelings about Pennywise, and I guess I’d count myself in that lot. I like a couple of songs, but mostly see them as the lesser of the 90s melodic hardcore bands to make it big. A little to bro-ey for me, I guess. They have a knack for songwriting though, “Fuck Authority” is ultimately a kind of dumb, almost ritual reduction of one of punk rock’s core tenets, but even I have to admit it strikes a chord. I mean, you could also say punk rock is just a dumb, almost ritual reduction of rock ‘n roll, right? They played a handful of covers in a row, “Wild in the Streets” by Circle Jerks, “Do What You Want” by Bad Religion, in which Fat Mike jumped on stage to help with vocals, and “Minor Threat” by Minor Threat. As is the expectation, they ended their set with “Bro-Hymn” and I got to hear a couple thousand woahs all in unison. Even if Pennywise wasn’t my thing, that was just a little magic.
And of course, it wouldn’t be a punk festival without a little politics mixed with catharsis. Fat Mike appeared on stage before the final set with a statue of a nude Donald Trump. He reaffirmed his beliefs that punk rock and politics are intertwined and not to be unraveled, allowing one of the Stern daughters to be the first to take a swing at the presidential effigy. The bat was shared by various band members as each broke the statue down with more and more nasty blows, batting the president’s dick off, until finally Fat Mike beheaded him. It was a fun, albeit violent sideshow in between the musical sets and a reminder of where PRB’s heart is.
The final act of the mainstage was the exclamation mark in Oi!– scene veterans Cock Sparrer took up their instruments as the air cooled and the festival marched into night. That’s one thing that bears mentioning: at night, Vegas is beautiful. The air is tolerable and the neon gives the city an otherworldly glow. At Punk Rock Bowling, it is a signal for the second half of the day for some, but for everyone in the crowd, it is an invitation to come closer. Cock Sparrer played one of the best sets I’d seen that weekend for devotees and casuals alike. The age old band came out to play old favorites and stuff off their new record Forever. As cliche as it is, they seemed like the kinda guys you’d wanna have a beer with– funny, humble, and talented old school punks. They played a host of tracks that I couldn’t help but singalong to on my first time. If I discovered anything at this Punk Rock Bowling, it might have been a new appreciation of what the best working class punk can do, bring people together and bind them in less than three minutes.
Maybe it was the beer, maybe it was because we were at the end, but this was when I started getting sentimental. I saw a crowd full of people, ages five to sixty-five, and they were singing along and dancing, smiling and laughing. I watched the song “Because You’re Young” become an affirmative anthem for generations of punks, young and old, as they looked back at the road they took in life and let their smiles broaden together. When the set ended, I was smiling too. All the denim, ink, and piercings unloaded into the streets and I saw a community. There was chatter about what they just saw, who they’re seeing next, and when they’ll fly out. Folks threw handshakes and hugs and promised to see each other next year.
A punk show, a party, a community– built from the ground up to rumble every year, to bring old and new together, to close distances– that was Punk Rock Bowling 2017.
Full slide-show below.