Punk Rock Bowling – a punk festival known more for its pool party day-drinking and stacked musical lineups than for its actual bowling – hit downtown Las Vegas again this Memorial Day weekend. In all, nearly 30 bands took the festival stage, not counting the numerous club shows with some 50 other bands scheduled for after the festival lets out each night.
While the gathering is easily the largest annual punk fest in Nevada, drawing bands and visitors from around the globe, for a weekend it turns Sin City into a scene straight out of an ’80s After School Special plot device, with dyed Mohawks and spiked jackets descending on the poker tables, casino bars and rooftop sundecks of downtown Vegas.
After three days at the festival, we jotted down some notes while our livers sleep off the weekend’s epicness.
- The festival took place on a large outdoor stage at the Downtown Vegas Events Center, where the surrounding hotel towers made for a surreal backdrop and reverberated the sound so that it could be heard when approaching from blocks away. Not that booming songs criticizing Margaret Thatcher may be any more shocking and spectacular to the normal tourist crowds in downtown Vegas, considering many are gawking at a light-up roof blasting animated light shows to a Jimi Hendrix soundtrack. It just goes to show how Vegas’ spectacle may be the ideal environment for thousands of misfits and miscreants sporting colored hair and facial tattoos.
- While punk appeals to people for different reasons, it makes it no less interesting for an environment where a few attendees could be overheard at the bar speaking about the books they had each read recently while, not far away, crowds batted around and crowd surfed an inflatable sex doll in a Hawaiian swimsuit near the front of the stage.
- In a reference to Donald Trump, European deathpunk band Turbonegro announced they heard the United States wanted more immigrants from Norway, and so here they were, adorned in smeared makeup, ridiculously short shorts and painted in tattoos. There would be quite a few references to the presidency throughout the weekend, usually about how most of the angry songs written in response to the previous Bush presidencies were unfortunately still relevant.
- Turbonegro also addressed the audience as the Punk Rock Bowling Class of 2018, following by saying that the band had received the class’ final grades and regretted to inform them that they had all failed every subject except for tattoo appreciation and selfies.
- In typical onstage banter, NOFX gave a shout out to the person who had attempted to leap onto the crowd from the stage during their previous song, but had jumped straight into the barricade and then immediately got hauled off by security. They wondered why he didn’t just jump off of the subwoofer stacks, which were the same height as the stage but only two feet away from the crowd.
- While Saturday and Sunday were slightly overcast, Monday was approaching triple digit temperatures. Much of the crowd, mostly wearing black with more than a few denim and leather jackets, stayed inside the casinos until making an entrance in the late afternoon. Even though the crowd eventually showed up on punk rock time, the fest was not on punk rock time and was surprisingly prompt, with most bands hitting the stage right at their scheduled time.
- This next one’s an old one. Fuck, they’re all fucking old ones!” – Mensi, singer of the Angelic Upstarts, which released music regularly from the 1970s-1980s.
- Kids-style push pop popsicles were a hit in the vendors’ area. Much like anything that must be eaten with a spoon, though, it’s hard to come off as intimidating when eating a push-pop.
- The Mighty Mighty Bosstones may not have been the headliners Sunday night, but they ran away with the show that evening. The Bosstones sported matching all-white suits, a member whose only job is a dancing hype man, a tight horn section and a ska-influenced sound that broke up the typical dance moves of running around in a circle.
- Crass’ former lead singer, Steve Ignorant, led the band Paranoid Visions through covers of old Crass and Crass Records bands’ songs, including songs by DIRT and Flux of Pink Indians. It’s at least the third band of Ignorant’s I’ve seen whose primary material is Crass songs.
- As Monday’s full moon rose and fest VIP members were watching the first of the Golden Knights Stanley Cup playoff games on a big screen in the VIP lounge, X and At The Drive-In headlined. X delivered more artsy-meandering material, including drummer DJ Bonebrake playing a xylophone for a couple songs, before finishing its set with most of the material from its “Los Angeles” album,which is 38 years old this year.
- At The Drive-In mentioned having played The Huntridge, the city’s now-demolished iconic all ages show venue years ago. Then singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala proceeded to climb, jump from and hurl just about everything in reach and not bolted down to the stage, ending the fest in fittingly chaotic fashion.
All in all, Punk Rock Bowling continues to be an inspiring, intoxicated, searingly hot party in Las Vegas. Until next year! www.PunkRockBowling.com
– Shaun Astor