Punk Rock Bowling’s second day started strong with an early main-stage performance by Old Man Markley. The LA-based thrash-grass outfit, which tuned banjos and mandolins as it set up, might seem out of place at a punk show … until it starts burning up the stage like speed-punkers who pawned their electric instruments for rent money.
Another Sunday mold-breaker was first-wave-Reggae-inspired ska group Hepcat, whose chilled-out sound offered a much-needed recovery period for anticipated performances before Cockney Rejects and Rancid. I took the time to enjoy the tunes and head over to the Lone Coyote Smokehouse & Grill tent to devour an amazing smoked-brisket sandwich.
Shortly after, British legends Cockney Rejects took the stage to jerk everyone back to full-punk mode. The Rejects joined the PRB lineup last-minute to fill in for Sham 69. Who better than the creators of the Oi! subgenre to fill Sham’s large shoes? Cockney had no problems whipping the crowd up with chants like “The Greatest Cockney Ripoff” and “Join the Rejects,” while lead singer Jeff Geggus air-boxed across the stage.
As rumors of an Operation Ivy reunion swirled, Rancid took the stage for its headlining performance and shot like a rocket out of the gate. Following the trend set the night before by NOFX, Rancid packed its set with oldies and fan favorites: “Radio,” “Roots Radicals,” “The Way I Feel About You” and “Journey to the End of East Bay,” the last performed as frontman Tim Armstrong surfed the pit. At any other show, those four songs would be encore candidates, but at Punk Rock Bowling Rancid set the bar high from the start. Armstrong and Lars Frederikson are such a powerful one-two punch, either could carry a punk band alone; together they offer certain knockout.
Armstrong dedicated “Last One to Die” to ex-Operation Ivy bandmates Jesse Michaels and Dave Mello. And while the Op Ivy reunion didn’t materialize, Armstrong did wax nostalgic about that band: “The first time I played Las Vegas, it was with Operation Ivy, and it wasn’t in a club. We played out in the desert on the state line. It was very cinematic.” Rancid continued its fast-paced onslaught, as fan after fan briefly rushed the pit only to limp out sweaty and often bloodied. After the band closed with a powerhouse encore of “Time Bomb,” “Tenderloin” and “Ruby Soho,” I finished my beer and sprinted off to the Beauty Bar.
I arrived to another sold-out show at Beauty Bar’s Trailer Court just as Kevin Seconds finished his solo gig. I was sad to have missed it, but at least I was able to catch a late-night performance by Dwarves frontman Blag Dahlia. Nothing and no one is safe when Blag is onstage with his arsenal of hilariously offensive love songs. “Should I do all dirty songs?” he asked the crowd, as if he had any other kind in mind. He played a quick-yet-memorable set, because in his words, “No one wants to see me play for 20 minutes.”
Next up was Tim Barry, former lead singer of Avail and current “adult contemporary folk-punk” journeyman (at least according to the title of his new album). Barry’s entirely fan-request set was a punch of reality right in the gut. He’s a genuine everyman, with lyrics die cast in hard luck. Barry performed story songs about hopping trains, living free and being broke, a few of which he performed from the middle of the crowd, without aid from a sound system. Barry was a natural fit to open for Chuck Ragan, who’d lent him the cash to road trip to Las Vegas for PRB.
Ragan’s trio performed a high-spirited acoustic set of his solo work, much in the same vein as his Revival Tour. Even if Ragan was tone-deaf and couldn’t play a lick, his raw emotion would be enough to move a crowd.
Punk’s not dead, it’s just going to bed. Two days down, one to go.