Fremont East’s gutters were once again overflowing with punks last night in anticipation of the 16th annual Punk Rock Bowling & Music Festival. This year’s fest is completely sold out—all three days and every club show—and Downtown is swarming with attendees stumbling, spilling, hugging, shouting Oi! and preparing for the crazy weekend ahead.
Friday night marked the first evening of club shows before the main festival ground opens at 3 p.m. on Saturday. I decided to start my festival off by going local and seeing Illicitor at the Beauty Bar. Rising from the ashes of one of my very favorite bands in the city, Holding Onto Sound, Illicitor is a straightforward punk power-trio. Though the band features two members from HOTS—Zabi Naqshband on bass and vocals and Bob Gates on guitar and vocals—Illicitor sounds slightly less melodic, with gruffer shout/sung vocals, but it’s definitely in the H.O.T.S. vein and it was great to see those guys play live again. Though no pit was formed, the crowd, which was still piling in throughout the set, clearly warmed to the locals.
With Illicitor wrapping up at just after 11 p.m., I sprinted to LVCS to catch the last two songs from Radkey, a St. Louis-based three-piece band of brothers and one of the most exciting acts currently emerging in the genre. Deep vocals, lots of “whoa whoa”'s and spirited teenage angst made Radkey a perfect fit to open for Naked Raygun. Recklessly stomping and thrashing on the stage, they are well-suited to carry the torch for future punk generations.
The next performer, C.J. Ramone, is a sometimes divisive character for purist punks. C.J. replaced the beloved Dee Dee Ramone on bass and backing vocals in the legendary Ramones from 1989-’96. Christopher Joseph Ward still performs as C.J. Ramone, and his sets are comprised of a combination of his solo work, Ramones favorites like “Judy Is a Punk” and “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” and famous Ramones covers like “California Sun” and "Do You Wanna Dance.” As a giant Ramones fan (who isn’t?), it’s great to see the Ramones songs performed live, but it comes with reservations. C.J., who wasn’t an original member or a songwriter, seemed to address those doubts when he said, “I'm the last man standing, so I can play whatever the f*ck I want.”
The night’s headliner—and one of the most anticipated acts of the weekend—was seminal Chicago act Naked Raygun. Jeff Pezzati and crew have been reunited since 2006, playing monthly shows and cashing in on some of the street cred they earned when punk was relegated to basements and dives. Pezzati is slow moving, quiet and deliberate while pacing the stage with mic in hand, but his voice sounds good as ever on favorites like “Soldier’s Requiem” and “Treason.” Naked Raygun’s trademark simple, single-note leads paired with Pezzati’s sometimes spoken-word melodies were a treat, and a perfect way to close Night 1—especially knowing there’s so much more to come.