Punk Rock Bowling 2017 review by Ricky Frankel | Photos by Alan Snodgrass
Let’s be honest, Punk Rock Bowling never fails to amaze punk fans with its line ups each year. 2017 was no exception. Where else are you going to be able to see the godfather of punk, Iggy Pop, a Choking Victim reunion, Bad Religion, Me First And The Gimme Gimmes, Pennywise and so many other legendary bands in one place? Sure, the Midwest has Riot Fest, which seems to be branching out into different genres and the East Coast has The Fest (and yes, PRB Asbury Park for the second year in a row), but we west coast punk rockers have the original Punk Rock Bowling in Las Vegas – the perfect location for three days of punk-infused mayhem.
One of the aspects that I love about Punk Rock Bowling especially is checking out the bands that I have never be able to listen to before. Day 1 started out with Mobina Galore, who I had just begun to listen to a couple of months before PRB. Let me just say that this band is going places. They were incredible. The brought a ton of energy to a clearly hungover crowd with songs like “Suffer” and “4th Of July.” After Mobina Galore was Drug Church and they played song like “Blanco Popular” and “Drunk Tank.” But the band that really got the excitement going was Plague Vendor who have this sound that is like a mixture of hardcore was scratchy James Brown-like vocals. Once their lead singer ripped off his shirt and jumped into the crowd with his mic the audience when absolutely ballistic. Plague Vendor really got “the party started,” but you could see masses of people running to get a close to the stage as they could to catch The Interrupters who ripped out tunes like “Like A Turntable” and they even got Bad Cop/Bad Cop to come out and dance during “Family.” Once The Interrupters were finished with their very lively set, The Spits took the stage and played songs like “I’m A Nuclear Bomb.” Then the magnificent OFF! went on and they killed it. Keith Morris is still one of the best frontmen in punk rock. They blasted out “Void You Out” to start and they also performed some of my personal favorites like “Wiped Out,” “Darkness” and “Red, White and Black.” Up next was the ever-amazing Me First And The Gimme Gimmes (this time with Jay Bentley of Bad Religion on bass, substituting for Fat Mike), who I had the night before at one of the club shows. Along with Keith Morris it is fair to say that Spike Slawson is also one of the best frontmen in punk today. The band nailed each and every song — most notably “Straight Up,” “I Believe I Can Fly” and “All My Loving.” The next act is also one of the reason I love going to Punk Rock Bowling. The fact that they can book legendary acts like Iggy Pop is just incredible. His performance was nothing short of amazing. At 70 years old he put on an hour performance and still managed to jump down to interact with the audience while doing so. The highlight of his set was when he performed “The Passenger” right after “Lust For Life.” It was truly unforgettable.
Day two of the Punk Rock Bowling started out with yet another band I had not had the pleasure of seeing live before and that was The Real McKenzies. This actually counted as my first Celtic-punk show you could say. The played songs like “Chip” and they even dedicated “Droppin Like Flies” to Chris Cornell, plus they payed “Due West” and (ironically) “Fuck The Real McKenzies” from their new album Two Devils Will Talk. After them was The Dickies, who put on a very fun (and classic Dickies) performance using penis-shaped puppet and a blow-up sex doll as props. Then the always great Bouncing Souls put on a stellar performance with songs from their most recent album Simplicity, but also “Lean On Sheena,” “East Coast! Fuck You!” and “Kate Is Great” to name a few. After The Bouncing Souls was a very special performance that we probably won’t see again for a very long time — or even ever again. It was Choking Victim’s reunion show (with Brad Logan on back-up guitar) and they played an incredible set. Sure, Leftover Crack will be play a couple of CV songs at their shows every once in a while, but this was different. Of course they killed it with “500 Channels” and “Infested,” but they also played “Fuck America” and just about everything else in their discography. For their final song, “Crack Rock Steady,” they had members of The Bouncing Souls and Slackers’ drummer Ara Babajian (formerly of Leftover Crack) helped close out the show. This is a perfect example of Punk Rock Bowling is so amazing every year — the special, once-in-a-lifetime sets.
Once Choking Victim were through, it was FIDLAR’s turn to take the stage, and to be quite honest this was the only issue of the festival. The band put on a fine show with songs like “40oz” and “West Coast,” but they had no business being on the bill with the rest of these bands, let alone going on after a Choking Victim reunion. And this was all very apparent because you could see that the audience looked pretty disinterested. The mighty Bad Religion closed out day 2 of PBR and they, too put on a fantastic show by playing classics like “American Jesus,” “Anesthesia,” “You,” “Sorrow” and they ended their set with “Fuck Armageddon…This Is Hell.” The most surprising part of their set though was when Fat Mike took over bass duties from Jay Bentley in the middle of “We’re Only Gonna Die (From Our Own Arrogance).”
Day three of the festival got off to a bit of late start in my case. I made it just in time to check out Discharge, which was another band I had yet to see live up until this point. By playing songs like “The Nightmare Continues” and “The Blood Runs Red,” they were contenders for having the angriest performance of PRB. Then The Adicts took the stage. This band has always managed to maintain a huge fanbase on the west coast and it showed when they began their set. The crowd was going absolutely nuts seeing Monkey parade in reflective, winged-cape and throwing out inflatables and cards while performing “Joker In The Pack,” “Let’s Go,” and “Viva La Revolution” among others. Pennywise’s set was pretty unique not only because they played some of their great anthems like “Society,” “Fuck Authority” and “Peaceful Day,” but they played a cover of “Minor Threat” by Minor Threat they brought Greg Hetson up on stage to help cover “Wild In the Streets” by The Circle Jerks and Bad Religion’s “Do What You Want.” Closing out the festival was English punk legends Cock Sparrer, who after all these years still got it. Hearing songs like “Because You’re Young,” “One By One.” and “Riot Squad” was a fantastic way to end such an amazing and exhausting weekend.
Obviously you don’t just go to Punk Rock Bowling for the main festival. There are always (especially this year) great clubs show to go to afterwards. But of course, it is nearly impossible to make it to every one of them, but I managed to go to the ones I desperately wanted to attend.
The first club show of the weekend was the surprise guests show at Backstage Bar And Billiards one Friday night. The surprise bands ended up being Starving Wolves, PEARS and Me First And The Gimme Gimmes. This was the second time seeing Starving Wolves and they put on one hell of a show — angry vocals, anthemic melodics and shredding riffs and solos. Check out their songs “We Are One” and “Fuck The People” — both of which they performed at this show. PEARS never fail to put on an amazing performance, but what was special about this show was their set list. They played one song off of every release they have put out including their “Sisters In Christ Theme Song,” but they also played “Green Star,” “You’re Boring” and “Snowflake.” Though Me First And The Gimme Gimmes basically played the same set that they would play later at the main festival (I’m not complaining), it was still so great to see this super group in such an intimate setting.
On Saturday, once Iggy Pop ended day 1, I headed over to the The Bunkhouse and managed to catch the majority of Bad Cop/Bad Cop’s set. This is another band I have seen plenty of times, but you could tell that they had a much better stage presence and over all confidence in their playing. It was very cool to hear their songs from their new album Warriors like “Retrograde” and “Victoria” played live as well as their older songs like “Rodeo” and “Cheers.” Once they were done the audience went inside to catch Toys The Kill, yet another band I had no seen before. But they too were great especially when they played their famous song “They Tied Up All Our Lace.” When Toys That Kill finished everyone went back outside to see The Lawrence Arms…WHO WERE AMAZING. I hadn’t seen The Larry Arms in over three years and this was everything I had hoped for. They had a wide-ranging set list with songs such as “Seventeener (17th and 37th), “100 Resolutions” and they ended with “Are You There Margaret? It’s Me, God.” Not only that, but Brendan Kelly’s stage banter was hilarious as usual. And once they were done, The Menzingers took the stage and ended the night with a pretty incredible show, but I was really happy that they played “Irish Goodbyes,” “I Was Born,” “Sun Hotel” and “After The Party,” but I was ecstatic when they played “Charlie’s Army.” This was a very special club show not just because each band performed extremely well, but also because this was a once-in-a-life time lineup.
On Monday night I went to the Fremont Country Club to see a SoCal gem. That gem of a band is called Tartar Control. These two Mormons and their robot put on a such a great and hilarious show especially when they played “My God’s Cock,” “Brush Your Teeth” and “Sodomy Basket.” I was laughing to the point where I was getting stomach spasms (if you have seen them before, then you know what I mean). Finishing out the night was Punk Rock Karaoke, who I have been meaning to see for quite a while as well. The most notable performers that took on lead vocals was Erich Goodyear of PEARS who sang “Myage” by the Descendents and believe it or not Fat Mike showed to sing “Give It Back” by The Dickies.
Clearly Punk Rock Bowling 2017 was one hell of a weekend. This year’s line up and the club shows were all mind-blowingly great and I really can’t wait for next year.