Festival Review: Punk Rock Bowling – Day 1 (Las Vegas, NV)

by Oliver Brink on June 6, 2017

“As long as we’re alive then Punk’s not dead yet!”

Punk Rock is probably some of the most honest music anyone will ever hear. Stripped away are the pretenses of “professional musicianship” leaving in its wake the raw emotion, power, and intellect—or lack thereof—of the music. It can be anything, it can be nothing, it can be everything. Somehow it has endured over the years in many different waves and forms, but to quote The Exploited, “Punk’s not dead!”  It is now 19 years since the Stern Brothers began taking over downtown Las Vegas and it looks like it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Thank goodness for that!

While the kickoff of the main three days of the festival was a bit rocky, spirits remained high and nothing could deter participants from enjoying loud music and having a good time. Despite the desert climate and hot weather there was plenty of water and shade, as well as a plethora of vendors and food sellers to occupy anyone not paying attention to whichever band took to the stage. One of the things that I immediately appreciated was the setup of one stage so the option of seeing each act was immediately available. Unfortunately I was stuck in line behind a number of other press representatives waiting for my credentials so I missed the performance of the opening act New Trends, but what I did hear reminded me of the late 70s CBGB bands with a modern punk flavor, going so far as to end their set with a true to form cover of The Dead Boys’ “Sonic Reducer.”

Hailing from Canada, Mobina Galore, a melodic hardcore two-piece took to the stage with pissed-off anthems of emotional frustration and loss. Jenna is as equally powerful on the guitar as she is with her voice, and when backed up by Marcia’s thundering drums and backing vocals they sound much more complete than one would imagine a two-piece could sound.  I found myself wanting their set to continue, but there is only so much time in a day and many bands to follow!

If Mobina Galore was any indication of the direction of the evening, Albany’s Drug Church cemented it. Their presence was fantastic and they played hard-blasting post-hardcore in the harsh sunlight, undeterred and determined to destroy. Patrick Kindlon’s unstoppable energy, coupled with a band aesthetic of playing faced directly to the audience (a great ideal recalling The Ramones) made for a hell of an audience engagement.

Los Angeles based Plague Vendor hit the stage hard, heavy, and fast. Vocalist Brandon Blaine performs like a demon, writhing about and expelling brutal screaming recalling Refused’s Dennis Lyxzen, refusing to accept an apathetic audience. The band is a force to be reckoned with and coupled with an unstoppably violent energy they certainly had everyone’s devout attention by the time they left the stage.

If there you were only allowed to use one word to describe Los Angeles ska-punks The Interrupters it would be “fun,” but with an appendage of “as fuck.”  Their Operation Ivy-inspired all-inclusive music coupled with their amazing positivity inspire all those listening to dance and sing along to rebellious anthems of self-reliance and family. As was to be expected, they took to the stage and delivered the fun, connecting with the crowd and keeping everyone moving and grooving despite the sun’s best attempts to fry everyone to a crisp.

I was not familiar with The Spits leading up to their performance, but their offbeat humor and old-school punk swagger made for one hell of a show. They were the first band of the evening to incorporate synthesizer into their strange brand of loud garage punk. They took to the stage in a mixture of strange costumes—see photo gallery, although Erin Wood’s monster mask didn’t stay on long from the heat—and proceeded to jeer and heckle the crowd in between songs with an offbeat sense of humor.

With everyone warmed up, and then sun going down, Keith Morris and OFF! took the stage and proceeded with a blistering hardcore assault which single-handedly revived the fury and sound of 80s hardcore. Morris’ street credit is no joke, with vocal duties in The Circle Jerks and Black Flag under his belt, his work with OFF! is some of the best political hardcore that punk has seen in years. His fury is tangible and no one is safe from his ire. Among the targets of his vicious vocal assault were Donald Trump, the right wing elite, the rich, and the upperclass. He advocated that we round up all these “spoon-fed mother fuckers” and bury them in the Nevada desert. It’s pretty safe to say—judging from the immense applause that followed—that the crowd agreed.

With the political discourse effectively over for the evening, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes threw a comical party, clad in shiny pink shirts. They brought some pure and unadulterated fun with their silly stage banter—including a fictitious story about Paul Simon’s schoolyard crush on a young latin boy— and super fast punky covers, in good contrast to the intensely angry politics of OFF! Through most of the night, I expected Fat Mike (NOFX) to make an appearance, but he stood on the sidelines as Jay Bently (Bad Religion) fulfilled the bass duties for the evening. Spike Slawson’s (Swingin’ Utters) stage persona was born for Las Vegas. His quick witted stories and devotion to the joke—“This next one’s a cover!”—along with the entire bands’ enthusiasm made for a truly entertaining performance.

Of course, all evenings must end, but what a way to end than a performance from the Godfather of Punk himself, Iggy Pop. Having achieved another milestone of accolades last year with Post Pop Depression, Iggy was back with his regular touring band performing a barrage of Stooges material as well as some choice cuts from his solo collection. At 70 years old, he’s still got it, running onto the stage to open with “I Wanna Be Your Dog” and delivering an energetic performance. Though age may be starting to show a bit more, no one is safe from time, Iggy is one of those performers who is forever young at heart and it shows. Blasting through a 15 song set plus encore, he was enthusiastically impatient, not willing to wait for the band to start each song he would turn to them and egg them on “No Fun, c’mon mother fuckers, go! PLAY IT! PLAY IT!” The crowd devoured the energy he poured out and in all honesty I think everyone, Iggy included, wanted the night to last forever.

Set List (provided through Setlist.fm)

1. I Wanna Be Your Dog
2. Gimme Danger
3. The Passenger
4. Lust for Life
5. Sixteen
6. Skull Ring
7. I’m Sick of You
8. Some Weird Sin
9. Repo Man
10. Search and Destroy
11. Down on the Street
12. No Fun
13. T.V. Eye
14. Raw Power
15. Real Wild Child (Wild One) *The Dee Jays cover
16. 1969

But as I said, all evenings must end, and this one ended on a musical high with the anticipation of another day of angry, loud, and fast music to come!

Oliver Brink

Oliver is a lover of film, music, theatre, and art. He writes and works out of Los Angeles.

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