Punks not dead, but it does have a museum! Rather fortuitously, this is situated in Downtown Las Vegas, the home of the Punk Rock Bowling and Music Festival. This week the museum is doing very well thanks to the legions of punks flocking to it because they are in town for the festival. You can even get guided tours by punk musicians you may or may not have heard of, who will regale you with amusing anecdotes from back in the day!
At the museum you can see any number of old fliers, instruments, clothing, posters etc. from ye olden days of punk right up to more recent times, both British and American. You can even get the opportunity to play guitars donated by various punk rock luminaries through their own amps. My favourite exhibit though had to be the recreation of the garage that Pennywise used to rehearse in! Complete with its own bar and tattoo parlour the museum is well worth a look and gives you a couple of hours relief from the unrelenting Vegas sun.
This brings me to what we have all really come for – The Punk Rock Bowling and Music Festival experience, and when I say experience, that is what it truly is. To fully appreciate the festival, you do have to embrace the experience as a whole. The festival is based in Downtown Las Vegas, which is hardly the sanest place on earth to begin with. To walk down Fremont Street, you experience any number of “street performers”, a vast majority of which are almost naked and doing bizarre things, a very high and noticeable homeless contingent and the just plain crazies! Add to this mixture a few thousand punk rock fans, and you have the ingredients for one mighty fine weekend!
Although the Festival runs for three days, Saturday 27th – Mon 29th May, events start to happen on the Thursday for the early arrivals. The Music Festival itself is split into three entities, the main festival itself (2 stages over 3 days), nightly club shows which take place after that day’s headliner has played and pool parties which take place each day before the main festival starts. Yes, there is a bowling competition as well.
To fit everything in, you have to be prepared to run yourself into the ground for 4 days with barely any sleep and the ingestion of copious amounts of alcohol. And even then, you probably won’t see or do everything you want to. The main festival takes place in its own dedicated grounds and has two stages which are quite close together, so there is no problem in getting from one stage to another. Everything is timed to perfection as one band finishes, another will shortly begin on the other stage. The bands are quite a mixture and shows the depth and breadth of what can be considered “punk” these days, but there is truly something for everybody. If you don’t want to watch a particular band, well just wander round the site and get something to eat and drink at the reasonably priced vendors or browse the various merchandise stores in the marketplace area.
Rather than describe every band I saw, these are my top ten moments of this year’s Punk Rock Bowling, in no particular order:
Suzi Moon – Main Stage, Saturday
It is a shame, but a lot of people attending the festival tend to turn up early evening for the bigger bands and miss the smaller up-and-coming bands that appear early on.
A case in point is that of Suzi Moon who appeared on the main stage at 2.55 pm to a small crowd, she surely deserved better than this. Suzi has a terrific band, and together they put on a great performance. Suzi is no stranger to the music scene and was a former member of Civet and frontwoman for Turbulent Hearts and has a great album out now entitled Dumb & In Luv.
This was a short set but fully showcased her talents and those of her band, who look like they can rock out with the best of them. Suzi really does have a fully fledged rock and roll scream which she uses to full advantage on songs such as Dumb & In Luv, Special Place in Hell, 99 Miles to Pasadena and Animal.
The music is a kind of punk/ rock ‘n’ roll/ Stooges mash up and a joy to listen to. The band performed a cracking cover of I Fought The Law (with more than a nod to The Clash than the Crickets) which brought things nicely to an end. The only shame was that she was not higher up the bill so more people could have seen her.
Dumb And In Luv
Special Place In Hell
99 Miles To Pasadena
I’m Not A Man
I Fought The Law
The Interrupters - Main Stage, Saturday
The Interrupters were just magic, what a last couple of years they have had. The crowd were well up for their brand of pop/punk/ska, and there were people dancing all over the festival site. Bassist Justin and guitarist Kevin are all over the stage, as is singer Aimee who is highly charismatic but somehow seems vulnerable and strong at the same time. Many of the lyrics are penned by Aimee and concern moments from her life, which has been mostly difficult, but she has confronted her demons and seems to have emerged victorious. These songs are a real celebration of life and friendship.
Straight from the opening song, Take Back The Power, they have the crowd in the palm of their hands. With four albums behind them, they have a wealth of tremendous material to call on, and they did not disappoint. Title Holder, Judge Not (which really gets the party started and the crowd moving), Raised By Wolves, She Got Arrested, By My Side, Gave You Everything, A Friend Like Me, Family and finally finishing 45 sweat drenched minutes later with She’s Kerosene. The crowd sang along and fist pumped to every tune, there seemed to be a huge amount of love for this band, and they certainly deserve it.
Take Back The Power
On A Turntable
In The Mirror
Raised By Wolves
She Got Arrested
By My Side
Gave You Everything
Friend Like Me
Surprise Guest - After show club party, Fremont Country Club, Saturday
Every year PRB has a special club show which features a surprise guest, usually one of the festival headliners or one of the bigger, better-known bands. There is inevitably much online speculation as to the identity of the surprise guest, and this year was no different. Early on The Damned appeared as the favourite front-runner and this was finally confirmed by Captain Sensible nearer the date.
However, standing in line to get in, I heard someone in front of me say that The Damned had cancelled, and the headliner was now Me First & The Gimme Gimmes. The news appeared to be widespread as the venue was not really that busy as it would normally have been. Soon it was time for the headliners, and yes it was indeed Me First & The Gimme Gimmes not The Damned!
The Gimme Gimmes are a punk rock “supergroup” who got together to perform popular songs in a punk rock style as if by a lounge band. They had performed earlier that day at the main festival. Rather than get disappointed at the nonappearance of The Damned I decided just to make the best of it and enjoy myself, I am glad I did. The band came over much better than they did on a huge stage, and it was tremendous fun. The sight of circle pits forming for such songs as Sloop John B, Jolene, Ghost Riders in the Sky, Take Me Home, Country Roads, I Will Survive and Over the Rainbow will live long in my memory. Everybody in the crowd entered into the spirit of things and heartily sung along to each song.
In the middle of the set singer Spike Slawson announced that there were some special guests and on strolled Captain Sensible and Paul Gray to perform Jet Boy, Jet Girl and Neat Neat Neat. The crowd erupted and they were given a great reception, the Captain apologised for the nonappearance of The Damned given to unforeseen circumstances (turns out Dave Vanian had a migraine). The Gimme Gimmes finished off a great night with Elton John‘s Rocket Man and End of the Road by Boyz II Men.
Leaving On A Jet Plane
Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard
Sloop John B
Have You Never Been Mellow
On The Road Again
Ghost Riders IN The Sky
Take Me Home, Country Roads
Jet Boy, Jet Girl
Neat Neat Neat
I Will Survive
Over The Rainbow
End Of The Road
Sloppy Seconds - PRB Monster Stage, Sunday / Pool Party, Citrus Roof Deck at Downtown Grand, Monday
So, to the quaintly named Sloppy Seconds, basically a Ramones influenced punk band from Indianapolis who specialise in songs about drinking, sex, pornography, comic books, late night TV and horror movies, some of which are gloriously not politically correct and set to a pop punk musical backing.
Mid-afternoon Sunday at the 2nd Stage quite a crowd have gathered to catch Sloppy Seconds who do not disappoint. They open with Germany a kind of Ramones/Beach Boys hybrid which immediately gets the crowd going and follow it up with a host of classics such as You Can’t Kill Joey Ramone, Queen of Outer Space, Come Back Traci, Shut Up and Pour Me a Drink, I Want ‘Em Dead, and Janie Is a Nazi. The band is a real tight unit, sounds fantastic and in B.A. they have a real charismatic and very large frontman who is the star of the show. The band did not perform many of their more “controversial” songs in this afternoon show, but did not disappoint at the pool party show the next day.
The pool party gave them a longer time slot, and it was heartening that they did not just repeat the previous set and add a few more songs. B.A. seems to want to get the non pc stuff out of the way. So early in the set we get the wonderfully titled You Got a Great Body, but Your Record Collection Sucks, Why Don’t Lesbians Love Me? and I Don’t Wanna Be a Homosexual. I am sure that the band would argue that they are being satirical with the lyrics, but anyway, the songs are going down a storm with the pool party crowd. The band is just as tight as the day before and even treat us to the Sex Pistols‘ No Feelings before departing the stage with John Denver’s Leaving On A Jet Plane.
Tremendous stuff, if you ever get the chance to see them, do it!
Main Stage Sunday
You Can’t Kill Joey Ramone
Queen Of Outer Space
Come Back, Traci
Shut Up And Pour Me A Drink
I Want ‘Em Dead
Janie Is A Nazi
Pop My Dick Song
Pool Party, Downtown Grand, Monday
You Got A Great Body, But Your Record Collection sucks
Why Don’t Lesbians Love Me?
I Don’t Want To Be A homosexual
Come Back, Traci
You Can’t Kill Joey Ramone
Fifteen Minutes…Or It’s Free
Thanks For The Mammaries
Steal Your Beer
The Horror Of Party Beach
Shut Up And Pour Me A Drink
I Want ‘Em Dead
Janie Is A Nazi
So Fucked up
Leaving On A Jet Plane
The Casualties - PRB Monster Stage, Sunday
Quite simply, this high energy performance was absolutely stunning, punk rock at its finest. The Casualties, a New York hardcore band, certainly looked the part with their mohawks, spiked hair, tattoos and punk clothing.
A large crowd was up for it from the off, as the band launched into opening song Chaos Sound, a frenzied circle pit immediately formed. At times, it looked absolutely brutal in the pit, as if 2 opposing medieval armies had met to have a war and no prisoners were to be taken. The band were unrelenting, singer David Rodriguez probably spent as much time in or on top of the crowd as he did on stage. Each song seemed faster and more intense than the last, 1312, For The Punx, Made in N.Y.C., R.A.M.O.N.E.S., Punk Rock Love,… A veritable punk rock feast which was brought to an end by the final song We Are All We Have.
For The Punx
Ashes Of My Enemies
On The Front Line
Made In NYC
Punk Rock Love
My Blood, My Life, Always Forward
We Are All We Have
Rancid - Main stage, Sunday
Rancid literally nearly brought the house down. Five songs in, during The 11th Hour and the crowd were so enthusiastic that the barriers at the front of the stage began to give way! The concert was hurriedly stopped so that emergency repairs could be made to the barriers. This took nearly 45 minutes. The crowd remained good-natured, and Lars tried to entertain them by first telling a joke and then running through The Wars End by himself. He gets Tim back on stage to do Ruby Soho and get a sing-song going.
Finally, the barriers were deemed repaired, and the concert got underway again. Despite this break in proceedings, Rancid were immense. Lars looked smart and Tim still looks like a bum who has wandered onstage by mistake, but what a show these guys put on. They only have an hour, so it is pretty much a greatest hits / fan favourite set with only two songs, set opener Tomorrow Never Comes and closing song Don’t Make Me Do It, from their new album.
Lars darts all over the stage and Tim is forever leaping off monitors with the sublime pair Matt Freeman and Branden Steineckert on bass and drums respectively. The band run through Roots Radicals, Salvation, Radio, East Bay Night, Journey to the End of the East Bay, Old Friend, Olympia WA., Fall Back Down, Tenderloin, Time Bomb and Ruby Soho amongst others. Each song was greeted warmly by the crowd like a dear, cherished friend who has not been seen for some time.
A brilliant end to a brilliant day from a brilliant band!
Tomorrow Never Comes
The 11th Hour (concert stopped)
The Wars End (Lars solo)
Ruby Soho (Lars & Tim)
Journey To The End Of The East Bay
Black And Blue
East Bay Night
Ghost Of A Chance
I Wanna Riot
Something In The World Today
Fall back down
Don’t Make me Do It
Booze & Glory - After show party at The Place on 7th, Sunday
This was a late one, with Booze & Glory due to be on stage at 1.00am. The Place on 7th was a weird place, as you walked in you were in a large bar area with the stage area to one side. It took me some time to work out (probably due to my inebriated state) that the stage was actually outside in the open air.
The band came on stage at the appointed time and went straight into London Skinhead Crew, but the sound was absolutely terrible. Guitars and vocals drifted in and out of the mix or disappeared entirely. This went on for a couple of songs, and the band seemed totally oblivious to it. The audience were beginning to get a bit disgruntled and then suddenly, somehow everything came right and the magic of this band shone through.
They write absolutely wonderful songs, songs that working class people the world over can relate to – football, work, class struggle, family and a recognition and sense of pride of where you are from (and where you can go to) are all subjects they cover. The atmosphere tonight is special, you can almost feel the love that this crowd have for the band and for each other as Booze & Glory fans. The circle pit is somewhat relaxed and very good humoured, so much so that I indulged myself, an almost unheard-of occurrence!
The band delivered in spades, a real crowd pleasing set list. I do find it kind of strange Americans singing along to songs extolling the virtues of West Ham united. Three Points Today and Swinging Hammers both going down a storm as do Days, Months & Years, Leave The Kids Alone, Carry On, Raising The Roof, Blood From A Stone and to finish with an epic Only Fools Get Caught.
Definitely one of the best performances I saw at this year’s festival.
The Exploited - PRB Monster Stage, Monday
I must admit that I have been somewhat of a musical snob as far as The Exploited are concerned. I have never seen them, nor have I ever wanted to see them, how wrong I was and how many good times have I missed. Mean, lean Wattie Buchan was a mesmerising frontman, his thick Scottish accent almost indecipherable (and I live in Edinburgh!) as he emotionally ranted and raged about something that had obviously upset him. This heightened emotion led to a tremendous performance and the street punk and thrash music pleased the crowd no end and culminated in a huge stage invasion during last song Sex & Violence.
Dogs Of War
Chaos Is My Life
Fuck The System
I Believe In Anarchy
Beat the Bastards
Fuck The USA
Sex And Violence
Dropkick Murphys - Main stage, Monday
Have the Murphys ever done a bad show? A real crowd pleasing set list with a lot of old stuff, only one song from the recent Woody Guthrie albums. Anticipation rose as Sinead O’Connor’s Foggy Dew came to an end and a lone piper started to play cadence to arms. On bound the boys and were off.
Do Or Die, The State of Massachusetts and The Boys Are Back followed in quick succession and then Barroom Hero really gets the crowd going mad. Ken Casey is all over the stage and up against the barrier, really giving his all. Next is Citizen CIA before things slow down a bit with First Class Loser and Gotta Get to Peekskill, the only song off the new album played tonight. The tempo rises again with Workers Song and then the anthemic Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ya, the audience singing along with every word. Smash Shit Up and Good As Gold are followed by the mighty Rose Tattoo and Boys On The Docks. The penultimate song was Skinhead on the MBTA, perhaps not as fast and frenzied as we’re used to but nice to hear it again all the same.
The closing song, I’m sure you have guessed, is I’m Shipping Up to Boston and the Murphys bring this year’s festival to a close.
Cadence To Arms
Do Or Die
The State Of Massachusetts
The Boys Are Back
First Class Loser
Gotta Get To Peekskill
Johnny I Hardly Knew Ya
Smash shit Up
Good As Gold
Boys On The Docks
Skinhead On The MBTA
Shipping Up to Boston
Honourable mentions must go to Playboy Manbaby one of the quirkier acts to appear over the weekend, L7 who were fantastic, The Chisel (from the UK), Anti Heros, The Adolescents, Surfbort and last but not least the wonderful Fea a very angry and ferocious all girl band from San Antonio, Texas.
My last moment is not a band or a performance but just the general vibe of the event.
Punk Rock Bowling & Music Festival is a very special event, attracting people from all over the globe. The atmosphere is just incredible and downtown Vegas is the perfect place for it. The experience of leaving the Fremont Country Club after a show at 1.30am, walking up towards Fremont Street, past Hennessy’s Tavern which has been commandeered by the Turbojugend (from Brighton UK to San Diego and all points in-between) as their headquarters for the weekend. The streets are teeming with people, punks, holidaymakers all intermingle with no hint of trouble.
As you continue up Fremont Street, you encounter all kind of street performers. Small children rapping at 2.00am, a Michael Jackson impersonator, a country and western hoedown, an impromptu disco dance class, lots of drummers drumming, and the thing is that all the punks are good naturedly interacting with all these things. The atmosphere is bloody marvellous!
You continue up Fremont until you reach the Golden Nugget and find the bar. A lot of bands stay at the Nugget and the bar is one of the places to be after the shows. A steady stream of musicians and fans come and go. If you didn’t know anyone there when you arrived, you sure as well will by the time you leave to get to your bed at 6.00am. Time works in a different way in Vegas, it just flies by when you are having fun.
Next day, get up at 11.00am and do it all over again!
If you can survive the heat, sleep deprivation, too much alcohol, not enough food and hours of punk rock music, I guess I’ll see you next year!