They knew they’d arrived when the nude fellow strolled by.
“That was a crazy day,” Municipal Waste frontman Tony Forresta begins, recalling an infamous 2012 gig at the now-shuttered LVCS as part of one of Vegas’ most anything-goes music festivals. “We pulled up to where Punk Rock Bowling was, and we just saw a naked dude walk by, like right in front of the venue. We’re like, ‘That was weird.’ ”
Well, not so much — at least by the no-pants, no-problem standards of the fest in question.
Now in its 19th year, Punk Rock Bowling has gradually developed from a small gathering of bands and record label types coming to Vegas to engage in the titular pastime followed by a few shows at various local venues, to one of the city’s biggest and best parties of the year, a debauched destination fest that draws thousands from all across the country as livers gently weep.
The festival has become a sort of punk rock genome map, where the origins of the music are traced on stage as scene elders commingle with successive generations of bands who followed in their wake.
This year, one of the godfathers of them all, Iggy Pop, will perform alongside the likes of ’80s melodic punk standard-bearers Bad Religion, British d-beat pioneers Discharge, reactivated ska-punk antagonists Choking Victim, the “A Clockwork Orange”-indebted The Adicts and more than two dozen others.
Each night upon the closing of the festival grounds — which move to the Downtown Las Vegas Events Center for the first time after taking place on a lot near the El Cortez in recent years — the festivities move indoors to multiple downtown clubs, this year’s lineup highlighted by appearances from New York City’s post-punk forerunners Television, influential garage rockers The Sonics, SoCal sarcasm fetishists The Vandals and the aforementioned Municipal Waste.
All of these bands underscore the range of the PRB lineup: Like punk rock itself, which isn’t defined by a specific sound, the fest has grown to encompass a broad spectrum of acts associated with various entry points to the genre.
Take the Waste: Their metallic sound is rooted in the mid-’80s crossover scene, where bands like D.R.I. (also Punk Rock Bowling veterans), Cro-Mags and Crumbsuckers united the then-warring factions of punk and metal.
“That whole crossover scene is a huge influence on us,” Forresta says. “We try to keep that torch going, you know?”
‘The best days are definitely now’
In addition to the pool parties and the always-awesome clash of cultures that occurs when thousands of punks converge with the Fremont Street regulars, one of the biggest kicks that Punk Rock Bowling provides is the chance to see bands who may have been overlooked in their day get a chance to play in front of large, adoring crowds years later when the times have finally caught up with them.
Perhaps the best example of this is British street punk institution Cock Sparrer, which returns as a Punk Rock Bowling headliner following explosive showings in 2012 and 2014.
The latter performance was particularly invigorated. Prior to the band hitting the stage that night, the air was thick with precipitation and fatigue, the asphalt before the stage slick with rain, sweat and beer.
The show was running nearly an hour late because of the conditions, and the festivalgoers, some of whom had been there going on seven hours, were weary, punch drunk and, in plenty of cases, just plain ol’ drunk.
Then Cock Sparrer came on and lit up the night just as brightly as all the neon signage nearby, jolting the crowd back to life.
“I remember that show,” Cock Sparrer guitarist Daryl Smith says. “During ‘England Belongs To Me,’ Colin (McFaull, singer) asked the crowd to sing as loud as possible to wake everyone up in the nearby hotel. The roar that went up from the crowd was amazing.”
Cock Sparrer is a rare breed, a band that prefaced punk rock (the group formed in 1972) but then came to embody a sound, a culture that sprung up around the band.
As its career advanced, Cock Sparrer became associated with the punk and oi! scenes almost after the fact: They simply didn’t exist when the group started.
“We have no problem with either label,” Smith says. “The great thing is that we look out at the audience of our shows and it’s really inclusive. There’s punks, skins, hardcore kids, guys with dreadlocks, hooligans and a healthy mix of young/old and male/female. As long as a punk and a skinhead can stand side by side at one of our gigs, have a great time and share a beer, then you can label us whatever you like.
“The one thing that transcends all this is an attitude,” he adds. “It doesn’t matter where you’re from, or what clothes you wear, or the genre/subgenre of punk you’re into — the attitude of self belief, DIY and a middle finger salute to anyone that gets in your way or puts you down is what unites the culture.”
As that culture has grown, punk rock’s glory days have gone from being a thing of an oft-mythologized past to that of a very real present.
“There’s a romanticism about looking back to the early days,” Smith says, “but to be honest, the gigs were poorly attended, if you could get a gig at all, the equipment was rubbish, there was too much violence — mainly by people who believed how the press told you to behave. The best days are definitely now. It’s more fun, the people that are left in the scene have a genuine passion for the music. Gigs are better. We’re having the time of our lives.”
Contact Jason Bracelin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0476. Follow @JasonBracelin on Twitter.
On playing PRB for the first time in 2017:
The Quitters, Las Vegas
“There’s this sense of unity that events like PRB invoke. Whenever a subculture can come together in a positive way en masse, it doesn’t get any better than that. Music can be an incredibly positive force, even if there’s screaming involved. The Quitters are stoked to share a stage with absolute legends. We all grew up on a steady diet of Bad Religion, and Iggy Pop founded punk rock. To even come up in the same Google search as those pioneers is a trip.”
— Micah Michael, drummer
Fidlar, San Diego
“My dad plays in TSOL, and they played it a few times. I always wanted to play it. Some of our big influences are a lot of those bands. … It’ll be fun to play for the all old punkers.” — Elvis Kuehn, singer/guitarist