The already lucrative beer sales at Downtown Las Vegas Events Center must have skyrocketed on the second day of Punk Rock Bowling. Sunday’s festival lineup was heavy on bands just as interested in starting the party as they are playing their songs. Who says punk can’t be fun?
Anger and alienation might be the genre’s most prevalent themes, but humor outnumbered them both on Day Two. Every act that performed had some element of comedy in their songs or performance, giving the festival a less serious tone than usual.
Crazy & The Brains To get a sense of the rising New Jersey punks, think of Rancid with retro disco outfits and more xylophone—a lot more xylophone. The gimmick works much better live than on recording, largely because of the charisma of fidgety frontman Chris Urban and similarly berserk xylophonist Jeffrey Rubin, whose solos come frequently and frantically. The band drew a small but loyal crowd with most fans in the front belting out every one of Urban’s words.
Larry and His Flask Watching Larry and His Flask can result in sensory overload. On stage right, there’s Andrew Carew and Kirk Skatvold rapidly toggling between trumpet, trombone, banjo and mandolin. Jeshua Marshall starts positioned on the other side, but ends up lugging a stand-up bass bigger than himself all over the stage, constantly shredding and spinning the instrument. In the middle, standing drummer Jamin Marshall thrashes with the best of them. Ian Cook is the only stabilizing force as the frontman stays comparatively stoic and calms with his inviting baritone and familiar guitar tone. Put it all together, and the bluegrass-punk hybrid seems incapable of a disappointing performance, even in an abbreviated 25-minute set like Sunday’s. It was certainly the only band to inspire the combination of two-stepping, swing dancing, moshing and skanking—all simultaneously on riotous closer “Call It What You Will.”
Swingin’ Utters Sing-alongs became the focal point for the veteran touring machines/frequent local visitors. The San Francisco band instigated a sea of beers and hands in the air for beloved 1990s cuts like “Fifteenth and T” and “No Eager Men.” There’s nothing particularly special about the Utters’ melodic street punk, but their longevity and consistency has made them among the scene’s most respected bands.
The Briefs Steve E. Nix’s lyrics are always good for a laugh. Although The Briefs’ music is pretty standard Buzzcocks worship, Nix’s laments over the likes of Bob Seger in “Silver Bullet” and shopping malls in “We Americans” kept the set from being forgettable. Also deserving of credit: The visual stimulation created by all of the tallest mohawks at the festival congregating near the front of the stage, pogoing and singing along.
The Partisans The 40-year veterans sounded remarkably tight for how infrequently they play. The Wales band’s PRB performance was a one-off, and its first show in America in more than three years. That made it a big early draw, as the events center packed in for the first time of the day. Few fans seemed to bail for the bar or food trucks during the performance, too—a testament to how seamlessly The Partisans weaved from melodic Oi! anthems to more abrasive street-punk stylings.
Turbonegro It’s a wonder Punk Rock Bowling doesn’t book the Norwegian “deathpunk” outfit every year considering how many fans it’s brought from all over the world in its three appearances. About half of the events center on Sunday felt comprised of members of Turbojugend—the band’s infamous fan club distinguished by their cut-off denim jackets with patches denoting their chapter.
Their idols wouldn’t let them down, as Turbonegro theatrically emerged on stage after a space-themed video and launched into a couple tracks off of this year’s Rock n Roll Machine, the band’s first album in six years. Afterwards, frontman Thomas Seltzer posed at the front of the stage in his skimpy cutoff jean shorts and addressed the crowd. “Remember when your president Donald Trump said he wanted more immigrants from Norway?” Seltzer cracked. “Well, guess what? That’s what he wanted, and that’s what he got.”
The opening five minutes were pretty representative of how the rest of the set would play out: a mixture of gratuitous guitar-soloing, classic-rock posturing and well-executed one-liners. The only downer was that a 40-minute set felt insufficient, falling far short of the demand. Punk Rock Bowling may need to take the leap and book the cult heroes for a headlining slot next time.
Mighty Mighty Bosstones You’d never know ska punk peaked more than 20 years ago by observing the events center during the Bosstones. The mood was positively giddy with revelers dancing across the entire venue. The vibe was infectious even for those who don’t share an automatic affinity for horn sections. The Bosstones’ stage presence deserves most of the credit for inciting the scene, as the nine-piece exhaustively bounced around in matching white suits. The band’s full-time dancer, Ben Carr, particularly kept the energy high throughout before the band broke into the obvious, crowdpleasing closer, “The Impression That I Get.”
NOFX Vocalist/bassist “Fat” Mike Burkett has a history of antagonizing the bands that play before NOFX at festivals, so it was surprise to hear him express deference to the Bosstones. “They were the real headliners,” Burkett said. “We’re just clean-up duty.”
That was part of five minutes worth of set-opening banter that preceded NOFX’s first song, and the only time “clean” should ever be mentioned in reference to the band. NOFX’s sloppy live performances have become part of its charm in recent years.
It typically mixes about two minutes of inappropriate jokes with two-minute songs that often also contain inappropriate jokes. NOFX really took the approach to the extreme at its first PRB appearance in four years. It couldn’t get through two straight songs without some kind of aside for the first hour.
NOFX finally bore down near the end and cranked out eight songs in around 20 minutes—anchored by Punk In Drublic favorites “Linoleum” and “Don’t Call Me White”—which might have set a new band record. And Burkett managed to insult one festival counterpart on his way out. “We won’t see you at [Monday headliner] At The Drive-In because they’re a terrible band,” he said. And with that, NOFX stumbled off the stage, and fans headed to the exit with the same woozy gaits.