Sitting on a cinder block on 6th Street in what normally serves as a metered parking space, it hit me, harder than any crowd surfer’s flailing sneaker. Punk rock feels so right Downtown because Downtown is punk rock. The Strip’s uglier, rougher, weirder brother. Bottle service? Try beer in a football. Down here real people do real things without tweeting endlessly about them. How does @elcortez chain smoking and playing #nickelslots grab ya?
In moving Downtown this year, Las Vegas’ 13th annual Punk Rock Bowling gathering grabbed hold of an identity it's never had before. And neither Saturday’s harsh winds nor Sunday’s odd chill could peel it away. PRB 2011, quite simply, was an Eden for outsiders, set atop crushed Miller cans and blacktop.
Sunday’s Descendents set was the apex. Walk through the Forum Shops offering $20s to anyone who can sing a Descendents’ chorus and you’ll probably head home with a full wallet. At Punk Rock Bowling, The Beatles couldn’t have gone over better. In the 1980s, the Hermosa Beach foursome sang about lame parents, losing girls to the cool kids and ordering food at Wienerschnitzel. Who in the sold-out crowd of 4,000 couldn’t relate, on some level? “Your suit can’t hide the truth/You’re a fool, and I refuse to be like you,” the masses chanted during “I Don’t Want to Grow Up,” even if, legally speaking, most had passed 21 a decade or three back.
There were plenty of lifelong, capital-P punks inside the chain-link corral between Fremont and Carson—behind, ironically, what once served as a fingerprinting station for Metro police. But many more were surely represented by Descendents frontman Milo Aukerman, a full-time scientific researcher who reclaims his inner punk when vacation days allow. Those who used their time off to fly in from California or Germany or wherever else for Punk Rock Bowling chose wisely, experiencing some of the best hardcore, melodic-punk, ska and folk-punk outfits around at the three-day fest and its supplemental late-night shows at nearby clubs Azul Tequila, Beauty Bar, Bunkhouse and Las Vegas Country Saloon.
The sound wasn’t perfect, and the food wasn’t cheap. But when ’70s survivors Stiff Little Fingers launched into a vicious version of “Alternative Ulster” at the end of their Saturday set, I didn’t hear anyone complaining. Same for The Bouncing Souls’ “True Believers,” All’s “Original Me” and Dropkick Murphys’ “State of Massachusetts.” And many, many more throughout the weekend.
Given how quickly festival tickets sold out and how well-attended the aftershows appeared to be, a return Downtown seems likely, assuming the city enjoyed the arrangement half as much as its guests. Punk Rock Bowling energized East Fremont with sound, sights and strangeness far more than it ever has Sam’s Town (which still hosts the bowling component), the Castaways or Sunset Station. When the lyric, “I’ve been here for you all along,” came from Aukerman’s lips, it felt a little like Downtown singing, to the kindred iconoclasts who’d finally found their way to Fremont.