Steve Ignorant presents Crass I never thought I’d find myself on a faux-turf field in the middle of Downtown Las Vegas, looking on as a founding member of Crass took the stage, yet there I was early Monday evening, the band’s iconic symbol cast on the giant screen in front of me. Crass, the definitive anarchist-feminist punks behind albums like The Feeding of the 5000 and Penis Envy, broke up in 1984, but co-founder Steve Ignorant has since re-ignited the English band’s discography, performing with Irish punks Paranoid Visions. Such was his lineup on Monday night, as Ignorant took the stage dressed in a white polo (embroidered with a small Crass logo), joined by singers Deko Dachau and Aoife Destruction, the latter handling ex-Crass singers Eve Libertine and Joy De Vivre’s vocals.
Standing under the hot desert sun, Ignorant and his fellow band mates ran through the group’s most iconic songs, notably: “Do They Owe Us A Living,” “So What,” and “Big A, Little A.” Throughout the set Dachau and Ignorant traded their brash, raspy vocals (though Dachau may have sang the bulk of them) cloaked in a thick British accent. Co-founder and drummer Penny Rimbaud obviously wasn’t in attendance (he gave Ignorant the green light to play under the Crass name years ago), though the current drummer did an excellent job of channeling Rimbaud’s rhapsodic, militaristic rhythms. The group closed their set with a supercharged cover of “Tube Disaster,” a song by English anarcho-punks (and Crass Records’ signees) Flux of Pink Indians. If Monday’s show ends up being the only time Ignorant plays our city, I’m happy to have witnessed such a rare piece of punk history here in the heart of Vegas. —Leslie Ventura
Against Me The Florida quartet is one of four bands that made Monday’s bill look less like Punk Rock Bowling and more like Coachella (or at least pre-Instagram Coachella). Which is to say its punk bona fides—strident riffage, galvanizing melodies, status quo-rejecting lyrics and a fearless lead singer in Laura Jane Grace—are also why it has become a vital modern rock band, period.
For Against Me, the success of Monday’s set would require a setlist balance between its rawer, more ideological beginning era, its slicker, more tuneful middle period and its most recent third (and, arguably, most triumphant) act, defined largely by Grace’s artistic establishment of her transgender identity. It straddled those evolutionary lines deftly, evidenced in the old timers who sung along to older chestnuts like “Walking is Still Honest” and “Pints of Guinness Make You Strong” (from the 2002 debut Reinventing Axl Rose), the millennials who raised their fists to the finessed mid-2000s rockers (“New Wave” and “White People For Peace”) and the newer anthems that refocus the rock ‘n’ roll spotlight on the defiant outsider (“True Trans Soul Rebel” and closer “Black Me Out,” which had a proud Grace belting out “Don't the best all burn out/So bright and so fast?/Full body high/I'm never coming down”).
Grace and company also used the opportunity to challenge the largely older, more traditional festival audience, whether de-mythologizing punk ideals in opener “I Was a Teenage Anarchist,” or throwing the first verse and chorus of Madonna’s 2005 dancefloor burner “Hung Up.” But for all the subversiveness, righteous anger and confessional bloodletting, Against Me’s pre-sunset slot was also a good time, underscored by the band’s smiles and enthusiasm. In her final thank-you to the crowd, Grace seemed as ecstatic as someone who had just played their very first festival. –Mike Prevatt
X Last year LA punks X celebrated their 40th birthday with an anniversary tour that included a gig at Brooklyn Bowl, and they also played a November 2016 convention gig at SLS’ Foundry, so they haven’t exactly been strangers to Vegas. And while they haven’t released any new material since 1993, that didn’t stop folks for coming out to support the seminal punks, whom are all now well into their sixties (save for Billy Zoom, who turned 70 in February).
The show started out slowly, if not awkwardly—the once energetic Zoom was seated for the show’s entirety, and singer turned-self-described conspiracy theorist Exene Cervenka took to the stage with hands in her pockets, pausing between songs only to stare off into space as if she wasn’t sure where she actually was.
The first half of the set didn’t seem to vibe with the crowd, who clearly wanted a more aggressive version of X, which they sort-of got toward the end of the set. “Come Back to Me,” featured a saxophone while “I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts,” a song that John Doe called “a mantra,” included a vibraphone solo. “Okay, let’s pick it up now,” I overheard someone say, while someone else shouted “faster!” The dissonance between the crowd and band was certainly palpable, especially after Cervenka gave an awkward lecture about punk’s origins. “Early on in the punk days there was a lot of roots music—it wasn’t just hardcore. If you like punk rock, you like this, right?”
Luckily, Exene still sounds great—powerful, sharp and full of command—and the band finally kicked things up a notch for “Los Angeles,” a foot-stomping version of “Nausea” filled with Doe and Cervenka’s idiosyncratic harmonies and “Johnny Hit and Run Paulene,” loaded with Zoom’s rockabilly-tinged guitar solos. While the earlier half of their performance may have been lost on some onlookers, X’s show was proof that if you’re a punk rock legend, you’ve probably earned the right to play whatever the hell you want, however the hell you want to. –LV
At The Drive-In Perhaps no Punk Rock Bowling 2018 participant represents the widening spectrum of punk more than At the Drive-In, whose jagged, melodic guitar riffs, arpeggiated explorations and cryptic lyricism sound more like a hybrid of post-hardcore and progressive rock. (Though the aforementioned X set may have crossed and blended more genres than the rest of the festival combined.) This may explain the exodus of traditionalists before its headlining set—which left a smaller yet devoted audience ready for the first local live airing of the El Paso quintet’s angular manifestos since an opening Huntridge set some 20 years ago.
The stir of those who remained on the Downtown Las Vegas Events Center turf began immediately after singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala walked onstage and began shaking the maracas that mark the start of ATDI’s iconic Relationship of Command. That album dominated the 80-minute-or-so set, including standouts “Cosmonaut,” “Pattern Against User,” “Sleepwalk Capsules” and “Enfilade,” the latter inspiring the crowd to scream the “Freight train coming!” chrous along with Bixler-Zavala. That communal showing paled in comparison to the singalong during closer “One Armed Scissors,” accentuated by Omar Rodriguez-Lopez’ serpentine guitar passages, Keeley Davis’ chugging riffs and Tony Hajjar’s stomping drums.
They especially shone during the slogan-loaded “Governed By Contagions,” the best of a handful of selections from last year’s in•ter a•li•a. Rodriguez-Lopez let loose an impressive barrage of squalling notes during that number, and did similarly during the hard-charging “No Wolf Like the Present” from the same album. Meanwhile, Bixler-Zavala alternatively spat and bellowed out his uber-syllabic prose when he wasn’t tossing his microphone or leaping onto anything that could be lept upon, with nearly as much vigor as he did during the Relationship tour 18 years ago.
Throughout the set, At the Drive-In sounded far more inspired and congealed this time around than during its reunion dates six years ago, emboldened further by the strength of the in•ter a•li•a material. Its first full-length Vegas set may have come at just the right time. –MP