Punk Rock Bowling Festival: Day Two – Descendents, Buzzcocks, Millencolin, Dillinger Four, Dwarves, Sainte Catherines, Night Birds, Be Like Max, Negative Nancy’s

photos by milhouse

In the shadows of the Pump N’ Shack Convenience Store, at the intersection of Stewart and 7th in downtown Las Vegas, hordes of punks descended upon the asphalt arena which is Punk Rock Bowling for what was arguably the best line up of the three day festival. The intense, desert sun, which radiated back up from the concrete below, fully enveloped the festival goers in an oven of near unbearable heat while they packed in to see punk rock legends like The Dwarves, Decendents, and Buzzcocks. The oppressive heat did nothing to temper the excitement surrounding the impressive lineup for the second and most anticipated day of the event.

Leading things off was The Negative Nancy’s. This all lady, local act plays simple, repetitive three chord, surf pop. The set was upbeat but a little low energy, most likely due to the high temperatures. The early acts were tasked with fighting through the muggiest part of the day and these lass’ did an admirable job of plowing forward through the hellish conditions, even if it did call for the conservation of energy. I’m not as familiar with these vixens from Vegas as I probably should be, having only heard a few tracks from their appearances on Squidhat Records comps. But I did recognize most of the songs they played as being from their debut LP, Sorry, Not Sorry. One of the guitarists wore a nice blouse and skirt, next to her more traditionally clad, punk rock bandmates, she looked like she’d fit in more with Sleater-Kinney, but I’m betting she was the most comfortable! Overall, a very good start to the days events.

There’s just something about the sound of some sharp brass that seems to get me going. Thank god Be Like Max was up next! Another local Vegas act, these Sin City skanks have been on the rise lately and provided an instant energy boost. Lead singer, Charley Fine was grasping the mic stand, thrusting it to and fro, like a marching band conductor as he stomped around the stage. Between songs, a joke was made about how excited they were to play “to a sellout crowd” (the crowds for the early shows weren’t very  dense on most days). The highlight of the set for me though was the organ player. There were a few organ solos that sounded out of place in a good way as they echoed through the festival grounds. It made the band stand out from the other acts of the day. The set was quick and energetic, concluding with the frenetic front man stage diving into the crowd from the press pit. As the band exited the stage the organ player treated us to an old school, movie theater intermission tune. Good shit.

Next up, Night Birds! The dudes from ‘down the shore’ took to the stage and instantly started in on their set which consisted of songs from their most recent album Mutiny at Muscle Beach. As soon as the opening chords started, I saw people literally sprinting across the tarmac to get to the stage, adding credence to the myths of their rabid and ever growing fan base. The first pure punk rock act of the day, the performance was violent and brash, drawing influence from classic 80’s hardcore. I love acts that feature a lead man who doesn’t play an instrument. It frees them up to go a little nuts on stage during shows. The boisterous Brian Gorsegner is just such a front man, teetering on the edge of total bedlam while the band shreds behind him. This brutal pace caused the lively lead singer to remove his flannel over-shirt about four songs in, god knows why he was wearing it to begin with. By all accounts the newest Fat Wreck Chords stars didn’t disappoint. To break things up a little, the jabrones from Jersey also managed to toss in a cover of of John Carpenter’s “Escape From New York Theme Song”. Is there anything these guys can’t do?

The Sainte Catherines have been one of my (many) favorite bands for awhile now. Something about the simple, honest lyrics set to antagonistic, hard hitting old school punk that reminds me of the halcyon days of our beloved genre. I’ve had a hole in my heart for a few years now since their apparent dissolution, so out of all the acts on Day Two, I was probably most stoked to see these contentious Qubecois (despite the Flyers back patch adorning the denim vest of front man Hugo Lundie…C’mon man!). Their forty minute long set consisted of songs from their Fat Wreck Chords magnum opus, Dancing for Decadence to celebrate it’s 10 year anniversary. “Burn Guelph Burn”, “Ring of Fire = 4 Points” all played with a studio like precision through the exceptionally  active set, using 100% of the stage as they all bounced around like pin balls off of bumpers. Between songs the French Canadian front man stopped to tell stories about their long overdue trip back to the US. The best one was about someone in the elevator at the hotel asking him where he was from stating that he “didn’t speak good American.” He also took the time to break my heart once again, stating “Our last trip to America was many years ago, this one will probably be our final trip ever.” Let’s hope not.

I’ll probably lose what little punk rock credibility I have, but here goes: I’ve never seen The Dwarves live. Nothing against them, I just don’t normally get into schticky bands. That being said, if for nothing else you have to give credit to these sadistic fucks for their staying power, so I was still pretty damn excited to see the curmudgeonly Chicagoans. The first part of the set was reserved for a performance of  their 1990 classic Blood, Guts & Pussy. Upon completing that set, Blag stated with a little animosity “That’ll do it for the old nasty, punk Dwarves that everyone hates. Now time for the poppy Dwarves that everyone loves!” The second part of the performance featured newer material along with guest appearances by the stunning Stacey Dee from pop punk sensation Bad Cop/Bad Cop for a performance of “Fake ID” (if memory serves). Also joining them for a song was Leftover Crack‘s STZA who lent his pipes (heh…) for a great version of “I Will Deny”. As if that wasn’t enough, the venerable veterans also played a brand new song, “Forget Me Not” which is about the recent rise in school shootings. Throughout the set I kept laughing to myself thinking that He Who Cannot Be Named was perfectly dressed for the heat, of course wearing nothing but a jock strap and his patented gimp mask.

Every once in awhile, for one reason or another I forget about awesome bands, negative side effect of the job, I reckon. Then I’ll hear them again and get flashbacks to my youth. When I saw that Dillinger Four was on the card, I thought “Fuck! How have I not fit these guys onto a playlist in 10 years?” and knew they would be an instant throwback to my younger years. As they opened with songs from their 2002 Fat Anthology Situationist Comedy, sure enough I was transported back to the good ole days of low paying, low responsibility jobs and late night binge drinking. They did a good job of mixing it up, also playing through a few songs from 2008’s Civil War making sure to include crowd favorites “Parishiltonisametaphor” and “Gainesville”. Lead man Patrick Costello kept the harmonies tight, never missing a note while keeping the energy high throughout the performance. Crowd banter was entertaining, not invasive. These ‘four portly dudes from Minneapolis’ were probably the best surprise of the festival for me. It was fantastic to see them again after falling off the map a little from their heyday in the 2000’s. I really hope they keep their head above ground for a bit longer.

The pride of Örebro, Sweden, Millencolin has been in the upper echelon of the skate punk scene for over two decades now. Despite that, I’ve never caught them live. Needless to say, I was pretty amped to finally do so. The sensational Swedes covered the spectrum, From Life on a Plate on up to True Brew, everything expertly performed with a high level of accuracy. I must have listened to “Bullion” a thousand times in high school. I know every note of it and the boys performed it impeccably, never missing a beat. By far the cleanest set of the night, lovable lead man, Nikola Sarcevic broke between songs on occasion to talk to the audience while other members tuned their guitars. He always comes off as such a sweet and genuine guy in interviews and such and his live performance did nothing to change that image of him. The band’s positive, upbeat image and carefree attitude almost seems ill-fitting at a modern day punk festival, hearkening back to a time when our scene wasn’t as gritty and divided.

Pop punk pioneers, Buzzcocks hit the stage to an ever swelling crowd. Without much fanfare or introduction they started into their set which included all of the hits you’ve come to expect, “Ever Fallen in Love” and “I Don’t Mind” among the many. The old guys took few breaks but never truly let up, their stamina seemingly unaffected by their accelerated age. After hearing their music in it’s more polished, studio recorded state my entire life, it was wonderful to hear them perform live, with the minor flaws and imperfections. The crowd reached a fever pitch with the opening chords of the classic punk anthem “What Do I Get?” as the lads from across the pond, rounded out this extremely solid set.

Descendents is another one of those ‘must see’ acts. Even if you’re not the biggest fan, everyone knows and enjoys at least a few songs from these miscreants from Manhattan Beach. Milo and the boys were set and ready to go right at 10pm and proceeded to emphatically kick their set off with “Everything Sucks” to the roar of the capacity crowd. The geriatric geniuses proceeded without too much haste on into “Hope” which was met with even more cheers. The festival goers had been pretty vocal and engaging throughout the day, but after these guys started in, it reached another level. Unfortunately, I had to split to cover a club show, so the last song I got to enjoy was “Rotting Out”, but I could still hear the raucous mob screaming incessantly for more as I strolled down Stewart Ave back towards Fremont.

**note from the photographer** I stayed for the duration of the set, enlisting the help of fellow photographers to watch my gear as I bolted to the pit the moment “I’m Not A Loser” began. I would say it was one of the best Descendents sets I’d ever seen, with a huge chunk of the set coming from “Milo Goes To College”. During the thrash, my beloved scally cap got knocked out of my hand, into the abyss of the pit. Despite my best efforts for the remainder of the set, I was unable to find my baby. My heart was crushed and I spent the entire rest of the festival looking to no avail until, as the crowd was clearing out, I saw a sweaty, tattooed stranger holding my cap! I ran up to him and snatched it out of his hand and thanked him. Too bad so sad for his new found cap, but my baby was back where she belonged.

Have a look at photos from Dillinger Four, Millencolin, Buzzcocks, and Descendents below, and stay tuned for more photos from club shows and Day Three in the coming days.

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