Arriving to the scene of Punk Rock Bowling music festival before the crowd yesterday, you found an unpaved downtown lot littered with smashed sunglasses, metal studs, safety pins, miniature liquor bottles and other kinds of punk rock shrapnel stomped into the dirt. Even if you hadn’t been to day one of the three-day music festival and bowling tournament, it was a pretty good indication that you were in for a party. And as far as hot, dusty outdoor music festivals go, it wound up being a pretty damn good party.
Day two boasted headliners such as longtime so-cal punkers Bad Religion and Norwegian cult favorite Turbonegro, the latter who, with tongue-in-cheek homosexuality and dress, are kinda like an offensive, punk Village People. Thankfully, both headliners delivered, as they should. Bad Religion played the hits and sounded like a band that had been playing for over 30 years — in a good way. Singer Greg Graffin may be a balding college professor who was wearing a polo shirt, but he sounded just like he did 20 years ago, and managed to break the tooth of some dude who jumped on stage and grabbed a mic uninvited. (Who was it that said punk was dead?) And Turbonegro … they had the tallest stack of amps, the best lead guitarist, the best outfits, the loudest sing-a-longs, and even with a new English lead singer, fell nowhere short of putting on a kick-ass rock 'n' roll show that lived up to every bit of the hype that came with the rare Vegas performance. So good.
Walking around the festival grounds, it became apparent Punk Rock Bowling is like a Vans Warped Tour for adults. Sadly, the popular Warped Tour festival, which was built on the backs of SoCal skate-punk bands most popular in the '90s, now caters to teenagers and their favorite bands. However, at Punk Rock Bowling, bands like East Coast anthemic punks The Bouncing Souls and California’s Lagwagon are still king. Both also played high on the day-two bill. While The Bouncing Souls sounded much better and had huge audience sing-alongs, Lagwagon redeemed itself — it suffered from sound problems and a hungover singer in Joey Cape — by ending its set with a kick-ass cover of Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades,” a highlight of the day.
PRB also threw a bone to local band Surrounded by Thieves. While given the tough task of being the opener, the tight four-piece with a classic hardcore punk sound made ample use of the large stage, exhibiting more energy and movement than some of the larger bands that played after them. “We got 20 minutes to beat your asses, so let’s get tired before the rest of the bands come up,” singer Brandon Buck said to the roughly 60-people watching near the stage.
Punk Rock Bowling festival bookers showed no fear with stepping out of the box. One of the best performances of day two came from rootsy duo Sean and Zander, comprised of Sean Wheeler, singer of punk band Throw Rag, and Zander Schloss, a multi-instrumentalist who has played with Joe Strummer, The Circle Jerks and others. The tattooed Wheeler, wearing a black suit and looking like a human Satan, proved to be the most charismatic frontman of the day, while Schloss, looking like a middle-school teacher in glasses and a tie, showed his dexterity on 12-string acoustic guitar and a funky Greek stringed instrument called a bouzouki. Their music is a swampy blend of folk, gospel and mud, but it was probably closer to the original spirit of punk than anything else yesterday.
That said, the “holy shit” booking on day two was 75-year-old Rock and Roll Hall of Fame-r Wanda Jackson. The former girlfriend of Elvis Presley played a sold-out PRB club show following the outdoor festival at Backstage Bar and Billiards. Backed by an ace four-piece band, Jackson took the audience on what she called a “musical journey” of her career, including songs such as her 1959 Japanese hit “Fujiyama Mama” and tunes from her recent Jack White and Justin Townes Earle-produced records. Though she rocked hard enough for the boys, Jackson was truly the ladies’ choice, as apparent from the hysterical young rockabilly girls smashed up against the front of the tiny stage singing loudly and screaming cries of adulation. Considering that the last time Jackson played Las Vegas she was opening a sold-out Adele show at the 4,000-capacity Chelsea Ballroom at The Cosmopolitan, Sunday’s show was likely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for those lucky enough to be there.
A final thought: The festival organizers should be given high-fives for the happy-hour beer specials (yes, at a music festival), abundant restrooms, shade, large fans with misters, and security guards much friendlier than those working PRB last year. There’s nothing punk about suffering at a music festival, even at a punk music festival.