By Josh Chesler
Punk Rock Bowling hit the Las Vegas Events Center this past weekend, and it brought out thousands of punks of all ages to see dozens of bands spanning the genre’s five-decade history. We were there to catch all of the action, and here were our top eight favorite sets of the long weekend. (All photos by Eran Ryan)
Realistically speaking, there’s a good chance that punk rock as we know it wouldn’t exist without Iggy Pop. Ever since the Stooges released their self-titled debut album back in 1969, punks have had a sound with which they could identify (even if it took a few years to catch on). When the man himself took the stage as the weekend’s headliner on Saturday night, the packed venue was dying to see every second of his performance. Not one to waste time, the 70-year-old shirtless superstar immediately riled the crowd up with early-set hits like “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” “Gimme Danger” and “Lust for Life” and didn’t stop until everyone sang, danced, and moshed along to more classics like “Raw Power” and “1969.”
For a lineup that was full of established punk veterans, it was some of the young guns that really got to shine at Punk Rock Bowling. Before the sun had even set on Saturday evening, the Interrupters brought their unique ska punk blend to the stage and impressed a crowd that was largely old enough to be the band’s parents. With anthemic tracks like “Take Back the Power,” “She Got Arrested” and “Family,” the LA-based quartet made it clear that they weren’t just in Vegas to hang out with some of their punk rock idols for the weekend.
Has anyone ever seen Bad Religion put on a bad show? It’s probably happened once or twice over the last 37 years, but maybe not much more than that. While your favorite band can’t even get it together to tour for more than a few weeks, vocalist Greg Graffin balances the frequent touring and festival stops with life as an accomplished author and Ivy League professor. Yeah, so not only was he one of the best performers at Punk Rock Bowling (and let’s not forget that Brett Gurewitz rocked out two nights in a row), but he was also probably one of the smartest people in all of Las Vegas for Memorial Day Weekend.
The Bouncing Souls:
Although they often don’t get the kind of love you’d expect for a punk rock band that’s put out 10 records over the last 23 years, there’s no denying that the Bouncing Souls know how to rock a fan-friendly set with the best of them. Rather than having to build a set around a single hit, the New Jersey punks filled their set with singalong material from their most beloved records like How I Spent My Summer Vacation and Anchors Aweigh. Smack in the middle of a weekend filled with plenty of hardcore punk, the Souls’ more pleasant and friendly vibe was an enjoyable moment for just about everyone in attendance.
When FIDLAR began their set right before Bad Religion on Sunday night, it seemed like the majority of the crowd had no idea what they were in for. By the time Zac Carper and the rest of the crew explained to the old punkers that FIDLAR stood for “Fuck It Dog, Life’s A Risk,” much of the 40-plus crowd could be seen nodding their heads as they presumably texted their children to ask about this cool band that kept saying “I drink cheap beer. So what? Fuck you.” For a weekend dedicated to punk rock, FIDLAR certainly stood out as the current and future stars of the genre.
If you haven’t seen the Adicts perform live, do yourself a favor and go see them the next time they’re remotely close to your hometown. Regardless of whether or not you like their music, their A Clockwork Orange outfits, or their outrageous antics that go along with all of it, there’s no way to watch the classic Brits and not leave entertained. On a near-100-degree day on the Las Vegas pavement, the iconic Keith “Monkey” Warren donned the shiniest silver suit jacket in Punk Rock Bowling history and rocked an equally glorious winged cape that looked like it could be straight out of Lady Gaga’s closet to begin their set. If that’s not commitment to an art form, what is?
Speaking of singers with a penchant for entertainment, Plague Vendor kicked things off relatively early on Saturday afternoon with one of the most dance-filled punk rock sets of the entire weekend. Despite likely partying more than many of the other bands during their time in Sin City, the SoCal rockers still delivered the kind of energetic performance that will draw more and more fans over the coming decades while the weekend’s older bands hang up their guitars.
Me First and the Gimme Gimmes:
Although the Dickies likely would’ve had the funniest stage banter with just about any other lineup, it’s tough to beat Spike Slawson when he gets going with the Gimme Gimmes. Add in their signature covers of tracks like “I Believe I Can Fly,” “Rocket Man” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” and you’ve got a set no punk rock bowler will soon forget. Once you see the bright pink shirts of the punk rock supergroup, you already know you won’t be disappointed. But above all else, just remember, “This next one’s a cover.”
Bonus: Fat Mike’s Surprise Just when everyone thought Punk Rock Bowling was almost over, Fat Mike took the stage with a baseball bat in his hand and immediately began pointing at the famous Donald Trump statue that’d been brought onstage next to him. After a brief explanation (following his moment on the stage during Pennywise’s set), the NOFX frontman and a host of others crumbled the plaster POTUS with a handful of blows from their bats — including a decapitating shot from Mike himself.