The Menzingers sat in the Baltimore airport late last Thursday night after an all-too-familiar travel day from hell and began to accept a disappointing reality: The band was likely going to miss its Friday set at Punk Rock Bowling.
“We were f*cking pissed,” Menzingers vocalist/guitarist Greg Barnett said.
Such disappointment had to be relatable to the few thousand fans with whom Barnett ultimately shared the feeling at the Downtown Las Vegas Events Center. (Yes, The Menzingers ultimately made it.) Punk Rock Bowling is the place to be for the punk community, and it had been far too long since its last iteration.
Fast songs, studded vests and bright mohawks hadn’t staged their annual takeover of Downtown Las Vegas since May 2019—until last weekend, when Punk Rock Bowling made a grand return with its 22nd edition.
The festival had been rescheduled and rebooked twice due to the pandemic, with all the changes and confusion threatening to halt the momentum it had built over its past few editions. Punk Rock Bowling had continually hit new heights in popularity and infrastructure since moving from vacant parking lots to the Events Center in 2017.
In the end, the delays did nothing to slow its success. The latest Punk Rock Bowling was the most-attended version yet, with a slightly expanded footprint that enveloped more of the intersection at Third Street and Bridger Avenue for a larger second stage. It sold out months in advance, and judging by Friday night’s attendance, not many fans were turned off by the requirement of either proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test.
The punk-rock gods even provided a midnight miracle for The Menzingers, when six standby tickets opened on the last flight out to Las Vegas—just enough for the Scranton, Pennsylvania-based four-piece and its crew.
“It all came together, and we’re so excited,” Barnett said. “We have a lot of friends here, and it’s so great to see everybody.”
Punk Rock Bowling did feel like a reunion of sorts, especially on Friday. Three of that night's final acts—Frank Turner, Anti-Flag and Descendents—had previously toured with The Menzingers.
The Menzingers set the standard for the night with a blistering 45-minute set heaviest on cuts from 2017 fan-favorite release After the Party. The performance wasn’t all that different from several other local stops over the last four years, but it didn’t need to be.
This year’s festival was all about re-establishing its place and showing it was alive and well, something the Descendents embodied best. The SoCal pop-punk godfathers have now headlined a night of Punk Rock Bowling in five of the 10 years since the festival moved Downtown, but no one seems to have grown tired of their biannual residency.
There might not be a better setting in the world to see the group that had its initial run from 1977-1987 before permanently reforming in 2010. The vast majority of those in the Events Center field sang along with vocalist Milo Aukerman from the moment he launched into “Everything Sucks” after drummer Bill Stevenson grinned widely and counting down to the start of the set.
All the members of the band are now approaching their 60s, but they didn’t take a breather until after cranking out eight straight songs including punk anthems like “Hope” and “Rotting Out.” And, for the most part, neither did the crowd.
It was a rarity to see so many people united in love for a single band, even at Punk Rock Bowling. The festival has gradually, and wisely, increased its sonic diversity beyond the classic 1980s punk sound over the past several years, but an unintended consequence has been a reduction in large, communal bonding moments like the one the Descendents provided.
Turner and Anti-Flag both put on strong Friday performances, for instance, but few in the circle pit for the latter’s classic songs like “F*ck Police Brutality” and “Die for Your Government” were clamoring for the former’s folky singer-songwriter fare.
Descendents were the glue that brought everyone together—and offered a large-scale reminder of the power Punk Rock Bowling possesses.
“You’re not a YouTube comment’s section,” Turner told the crowd during his set. “We got used to that bullsh*t, and I missed this more than you can ever imagine. This is my church.”