Iggy Pop Early in Saturday’s headlining set, a male fan sprinted from backstage, briefly embraced Iggy Pop from behind and then leapt into the crowd before two pursuing security guards could stop him. The 70-year-old Iggy never flinched. He was too locked into a phenomenal performance on the first night of Punk Rock Bowling’s outdoor festival at the sold-out Downtown Las Vegas Events Center.
The brazen stage dive appropriately came during “Gimme Danger”—the second in a wildly lively four-pack of opening songs. Iggy first bounded into “I Wanna Be Your Dog” before cutting straight into “Gimme Danger”, which preceded iconic cuts “The Passenger” and “Lust for Life.”
The hit-driven start made for an immediate intensity impossible to maintain for the whole night, but Iggy did more than enough to make his entire 65 minutes onstage something that will go down in Punk Rock Bowling lore.
The set was split nearly evenly between Stooges (nine songs) and solo material (seven songs). Iggy’s band stayed mostly in the background, making for a couple of awkward moments when he ditched the stage and went down to the rail, where he was invisible to 99 percent of the crowd.
Overall, though, the backing-band arrangement was the right idea. The focus needed to stay on Iggy, who rarely took a break other than to douse himself—and those in the front row—with water.
After completing an encore of The Stooges’ “1969”, Iggy spiked his microphone, knocked over the stand, beat on his chest and raised his hands over his head—a triumphant pose for a triumphant performance.
Me First and The Gimme Gimmes Leave it to the all-star cover band—“scratch that, we are the cover band,” frontman Spike Slawson announced—to instill the punk show with its usual dose of unseemly humor. Saturday’s recurring punch lines had to do with opioid addiction. With co-founders Fat Mike (NOFX) and Chris Shiflett (Foo Fighters) both out of the current touring lineup, more of the comedy and performance onus fell on Slawson.
He was up for the task, sashaying across the stage during a rendition of John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” and strumming away on a ukulele for Madonna’s “Crazy for You.” The Gimmes proved entertaining as usual, but there wasn’t much separating the performance from their biannual stop either on the festival’s main stage or at a late-night club show.
Off! “I’m the guy who gets accused of throwing people under the bus, and there’s a quadruple-decker coming,” punk legend and Off! vocalist Keith Morris said unironically shortly after sharing his bandmates’ complaints that he writes too many political songs. That was the only sign of discord from the speedy LA hardcore punk supergroup, as Off! otherwise rolled through more than 20 vitriolic songs in 40 minutes.
Morris was back at the first night of Punk Rock Bowling for the second-straight year, after headlining with Flag in 2016. While it’s hard to match the atmosphere of thousands of punks screaming the Black Flag classics, from a purely sonic standpoint, Off! was even better. In particular, drummer Mario Rubalcaba, known for his work with Hot Snakes and Rocket From the Crypt, made the crowd feel like road kill with his feverish pace.
The Spits For better or worse, the veterans from Seattle by way of Kalamazoo, Michigan, hit all the punk stereotypes during their brief set. They were so fast at times that the circle pit couldn’t keep up, so sloppy that they couldn’t agree on how to end songs and so loud that they struggled with monitor problems throughout. “That’s what punk rock is all about,” a man near the front in a cutoff, studded, black-denim jacket yelled as The Spits left the stage.
The Interrupters Entry lines were at their longest right before The Interrupters, as a wave of attendees skanked toward the stage when the ska-revival act cranked out its first note. They got a warm reaction, but there’s not much differentiating The Interrupters from the scores of bands that played their style in the ’90s. Perhaps standing out was part of the impetus for not employing a horn section, but its absence made the band sound incomplete.
Plague Vendor Despite delivering the most energetic performance of the day at the hottest point of the afternoon, Plague Vendor sounded remarkably tight. That’s surely a by-product of an exhausting touring schedule in support of sophomore full-length Bloodsweat over the past 14 months.
Among vocalist Brandon Blaine’s antics: posing in a headstand on the bass drum, swinging the mic stand like a cleanup hitter and pelting the audience with rolls of toilet paper. Both in terms of their pummeling yet imaginative sound and frenzied delivery, Plague Vendor reminded of 2015 Punk Rock Bowling headliner Refused.
Plague Vendor’s social media accounts have teased new material, which, judging from Saturday’s performance, should be eagerly anticipated for anyone with an interest in forward-thinking punk.
Drug Church The Albany, New York, hardcore act also successfully challenged the notion that punk has no creative territory left to explore. Guitarists Cory Galusha and Nick Cogan treated early arrivers by weaving in and out of reverb-soaked parts and heavy riffs beneath vocalist Patrick Kindlon’s acerbic spews of self-loathing lyrics.
Given his role as ringleader of prolific punk collective Self Defense Family, Kindlon’s inclusion on the Punk Rock Bowling stage in Las Vegas—Drug Church played the inaugural East Coast version of the festival in Asbury Park, New Jersey, last year—was long overdue. The same could be said for Iggy Pop, who put on the only performance more memorable than Drug Church’s on Saturday.
Punk Rock Bowling May 27-29, Saturday & Sunday doors 3 p.m.; Monday doors 2 p.m.; $50/day, $125/fest. Downtown Las Vegas Events Center, punkrockbowling.com.