Looking out into the sea of people in the expanses that sprawl out from the upgraded festival stage at Punk Rock Bowling’s virgin location in the booming district of Downtown Las Vegas was a seismic life experience. Not just because of how fucking rad Punk Rock Bowling was this year but because all the events of the weekend set to the music of the festival served as a soundtrack to life’s highlight reel in my head.
A series of events culminated into the bitter-sweetest regression of lonerism one could ever celebrate, as I stood alone, backstage, watching The Adicts play the best set I’d ever seen from them.
Being 2 months out of knee surgery, that familiar human turbine engine of 7,k people dancing and swirling in front of the stage like a pack of bats taking flight at sun down or a school of fish changing direction in unison was unfamiliar from this vantage point- I’ve always preferred being IN the engine instead of being a spectator. Because when you’re in the pit, you’re dealing directly with any physical manifestation of frustration or anger that might have built up through the grind of life and you aren’t really thinking all that much.
Well, all I could do this year is be a passive observer and engage in the self importance that occurs behind the scenes (kinda like this piece. But gimmie a break. This is the 3rd year in a row I’m writing this recap and ridiculously tangential is better than predictably stale, don’t ya think?)
Still, most people are so thirsty to get to know the artists they love or to stand where I was standing as some validation of their worth, but I never wanted to play the game that got me back here or take the chance of ruining the music I love by getting to know the artists that created it and at the same time, realizing that they’re huge pieces of shit.
Being a “music journalist” allows me to retain, or at the very least feign a perceived integrity while meeting people of interest- without the need to be a star fucker to do it. I fucking hate that game because I prefer to put bands I love on a pedestal and nothing reveals character quicker than the way one acts when meeting someone who’s anxious or excited to be around you. And everything about this year’s festival put me in the position to be anxious because… you can’t be what you were.
Punk Rock Bowling is a living breathing time capsule, animated by it’s founders in the image of an era of punk in which it’s consumers were still on the edge of being outcasts but were still much less scary and dangerous to outsiders than their predecessors. Founders that I put on a pedestal in my late teens and early 20’s as punk gods and visionaries, not just opportunists, when in reality, it takes an opportunist to capitalize on a vision and after all, you can’t be what you were…
related content: Janky Smooth Interview with The Stern Brothers
Case in point: In a weekend that produced one of the best Iggy Pop sets of the few I’d seen in the last two years, ironically it was a Municipal Waste club show that gave me the “punkest” moments of Punk Rock Bowling 2017. A show most “real” punkers would have their nose in the air about is what really encapsulates the ideology that most people don’t even understand.
This psychotic break-ation of mine started in earnest on that Sunday at the tail end of the festival sets, when some miscommunications and frustrations with my compatriots led me to limp down Fremont street alone, 2 months after knee surgery. But I can see now that I was doomed before I even got to Vegas- couped up recovering for 8 weeks and just when I think I’m free, arriving in Vegas for PRB and not even able to kick any ass to cleanse me of being indisposed for that long…
…and all I’m saying, Jules, is you don’t want to have a race car in a red!
On my way to the Municipal Waste gig, after this encounter had me talking to myself more than usual, some acquaintances I crossed paths with scoffed at the thought of seeing Municipal Waste over the secret guest show in which it had been recently confirmed would be Cock Sparrer– it was kinda reminiscent of how squares scoffed at punk in the Punk B.G. era, (Punk Before Green Day). It was totally trippy.
But the thing that stoked me out MOST on this Memorial Day Weekend was the realization that the conflicts that existed when deciding which club shows to attend were moot since I was able to catch the entire line-up at one club show and make it to the headliner of the show I decided not to attend. Seeing Alice Bag, The Weirdos and Televison at The Bunkhouse and making it back to Fremont Country Club in time to see MOST of The Vandals club gig was momentous.
Municipal Waste followed immediately by Cock Sparrer just next door was a major highlight of Punk Rock Bowling 2017, in it’s 19th year.
But It was that interaction that scoffed at thrash metal that culminated into this deeper nostalgia I referenced earlier, when I found myself head banging alone to the palm muted picking and power chords of Municipal Waste. Good, ol fashioned, non-NU-Metal-thrash. My hair happens to be the same length as it was when I was 15 years old and knee deep in learning Excel riffs and songs off Kill ‘em All using guitar tablature books for the first time. And just like when I was 15, I never failed to find new, like minded heads to hang out with if ever my desire to be alone turned into being lonely and last Sunday, sure enough, I looked up and two head-banging girls materialized standing next to me like I was in a Wayne’s World skit on SNL.
Rarely is the path of enlightenment walked having company but you can meet other travelers on the way if you want to.
There’s a certain dogma to everything and maybe it’s unrealistic to think that punk rock would escape it. It’s why so many people smugly proclaim that Punk is Dead– as if they were the first ones ever to utter those words, unknowingly ignorant to the fact that even that phrase is now outdated and even less punk than saying what is punk and what isn’t.
related content: Punk Rock Bowling 2017 Kicks Off w/ The Sonics, Throw Rag and Moore
I will say that Punk Rock Bowling and it’s founders truly encapsulate a paradigm which served to define so much about how I viewed the world, the music I listened to and an essence which can never truly be recreated without being, for lack of a better word, a poser because- you can’t be what you were…
But the Stern brothers did something this year that upset a status quo that’s not even supposed to exist at all in Punk Rock.- they gave FIDLAR a prominent set time after dark- just before the headliner on Sunday night, Bad Religion. That is sort of the equivalent of the Pope making a public statement about compassion or open mindedness for the LGBT community or other such rejections of conventional wisdom in the Catholic Church or in this case, the dogma that follows punk rock around like a preacher giving his testimonial to the godless.
related content: An Interview w/ Zac Carper from FIDLAR
All in the lead up to, during and after the festival, punk patrons on Facebook groups, message boards, Reddit posts, Twitter retweets and Insta comment threads loudly proclaimed that FIDLAR wasn’t punk!
I guess I’m weird. The thing that gets me off isn’t familiarity or the already known, it’s being around something that is happening NOW, not reliving something that happened “then” because, well, you know…
But in the case of Punk Rock Bowling or the thought of Circle Jerks, Minor Threat or Op Ivy playing again, it’s the best of “this is your life” no matter how many people in a position to know say it’s never going to happen. But, make no mistake, during the moments that make up Punk Rock Bowling and Music Festival, for just a few days, you CAN be what you were. Sorry, Ian.
Yes, a majority of the 7k people in attendance were also trying to recapture what they were. I’m not talking to you crust punks or gutter punks or whatever the hell you call yourselves now. You get a pass because there is no hedge or half steppin. You really committed and that, therefore MUST be respected. All the way down to your pet puppy that is your partner in the punk panhandle and the nosey SJW’s that look down upon you because your dragging this “poor innocent creature without the power to make the choices you have for yourself” into hunger and sub par consumer standards of the disappearing middle class. Fight the Power!
What do you think Shawn and Mark Stern are going to do when first wave punks aren’t physically capable of playing high energy shows anymore? Book New Found Glory or Blink 182? Fuck no! Even though FIDLAR aged patrons were weaned on that garbage, I think the Sterns have at LEAST another 5 years before they would consider booking a festival they wouldn’t want to attend themselves.
But it’s the FIDLARS, Plague Vendor, The Birth Defects, Coathangers, Together Pangea, Trash Talk and Ho99o9’s of the world in which any possible future of Punk Rock Bowling may lie. Well, any future that is worthy of bearing the Punk Rock Bowling moniker, or, at least get me to attend a show that bears that moniker, knowing full well that… yes, you guessed it… you can’t be what you were.
related content: Janky Smooth Top 25 Bands & Artists To Watch in 2017
See, I’m not immune to it myself and when it comes to corporate, major label punk rock boy bands like (fill in the blank), I feel totally comfortable with making an absolute statement that they are NOT punk.
It’s not because it’s “pop punk” per se, because today’s pop punk like Pangea and Joyce Manor are MUCH more acceptable to me than Alkaline Trio.
SST was DIY much in the same way Burger Records is DIY, today. Just some music snob founders with some balls (or ovaries for faux feminists that might be reading this) and a catalog, up late making stickers and packing shipping boxes- interns or no interns.
Because, in the end, it’s the fans that set the culture of the scene. And if you drive a lifted truck and enjoy long walks on the beach, picking on an easy target like an injured gazelle in the pack or even just going with the group when your friends are doing it, then you missed the essence of what punk is altogether if you still engage in “bro culture”- because it’s not just as simple as what bands you do or don’t listen to.
When I was in High School between 1990-1994, punks were still being called faggots and freaks. No one thought it was a good marketing strategy to sell Slayer shirts at The Gap like they do now at H & M. “Normal” people of the time were intimidated even by the more melodic punk sounds of Bad Religion (to be fair to the incredible level of dissent of BR, their lyrics were unambiguously anti religion, government and status quo) and NOFX- much less people who liked Slayer.
Which is probably why the Municipal Waste show at the Fremont Country Club a couple Sunday’s ago felt like the most punk to me. (also playing were Ignite and Let Rage) Because when I was in high school, it was the heshers and thrashers that were a bit more of the outcasts than the punks, because being “punk” was kinda becoming pretty cool for the first time.
All the punk anti-heroes of yesterday are cultural icons in today’s mainstream. Look at Iggy Pop. Top festival billing all of 2017 but it wasn’t always so, particularly when he was an active Stooge. And even though a majority of music loving millennials know the name Ian Curtis, the only thing wearing a Joy Division shirt meant in the early 90’s was that you and your friends didn’t quite fit in and you might hear some chuckles and see some pointing from the bros and hoes in the quad at lunch. Much less the fact that now, every millennial with a moderately good musical taste owns a Joy Division shirt and the vinyl they purchased from Amoeba that included the shirt with the purchase on Ian Curtis day. It’s a fairly common cycle, actually, that the formerly misunderstood and ridiculed end up making the biggest mark on the culture that once rejected them.
And it’s a proud fact that is the stuff of legend that hipsters ( the most misunderstood word in pop culture today) are made of that allows us to say that we liked this shit before it was cool and widely accepted.
So, you say you’re a punk? When’s the last time you went on out on a limb on a band or a song that most of your peers didn’t fancy? Oh, you LOVE Crass? Right on, Crass is must own music for any self respecting punk of the hardcore variety but not exactly straying from the “the crowd” on that one- at least not the crowd that is the worldwide army of people that now consider themselves punk, as opposed to the handful of people that knew who Crass was in 1989.
So is FIDLAR today’s equivalent of Crass? Oh abso-fucking-lutely not, bruh. You can’t be what you were…
Kinda like their set list or, at the very least, the order of songs in their Punk Rock Bowling set, Sunday at the festival.
Don’t get me wrong, their opening number at Punk Rock Bowling, “Stoked and Broke” is one of my favorite songs on their first, self titled LP in tone, lyrical content and subject matter but I wanted nothing more than for FIDLAR to leave a lasting impression on the sometimes close minded patrons of Punk Rock Bowling. I think playing their second song in the set, “Cheap Beer” first or even kicking off with the quick blast of “Wake, Bake, Skate”- the first FIDLAR song I ever heard could’ve drastically shifted the opinions of the punk pessimists. Because BOTH of those tracks could make the cut into your time capsule even though THEY can’t be what YOU were…
It was a FIDLAR record release party at the now defunct DIY space, the L.A. Fort that turned me onto the fact that there was a thriving, booming new music scene that grew out of the ashes of the music industry, in which people’s intentions in starting a band were purely motivated, devoid of calculated song writing that could lead to signing bonuses, motivated only by the desire to melt faces and destroy safe spaces.
Thoughts raced through my brain about unity being a good thing but not if it means we’re just another hive mind. I thought about the ideals and people I envisioned being around in my adult life and how nothing’s changed about how I feel about groups or cliques of people enough to be a part of any, because I can’t help but be repelled by the group think that is always present in an undertaking that grows in popularity. But I have to remind myself that you can’t be what you were…
I walked next door to Backstage Bar and Billiards after Municipal Waste wrapped their set and caught motherfucking CockSparrer playing a club show as the Secret Guest.
I knew some of the people around me in the venue, but there was a familiar comfort in not engaging too deeply with them or remaining just on the fringes of their group, which made some of the strangers within the group eyeball me suspiciously. But I couldn’t turn back now. I was down the rabbit hole and in way too deep to this narrative to break the tough veneer that is usually broken by the cleansing that occurs in the midst of a slam dance. No, I was going to ride this wave of awkward social interactions all the way back down the 15 south until I got home and had to snap out of it and get back to not being a fuck anymore, because… you can’t be what you were…
So in the moments of conflict in my relations coupled with physical limitations, I gained incredible relief surrounded by like minded strangers with not a friend or collaborator in sight- although I know Todd Anderson was creepin solo style that night like I was.
I could’ve gone the traditional route and structure of a review and I’m quite positive that MORE people would’ve enjoyed it. So, what if I told you that there was a look of purpose and dare I say, confidence in Iggy’s eyes on Saturday night, which suggested an acknowledgement that this crowd might be a bit harder to please than the one he’s playing for FYF in July. His gyrations and twisted contortions were more pronounced than in recent memory and he seemed more hungry to please this crowd than others I’ve been in.
Or that I guess I never got fully turned onto the glory of Choking Victim. How the fuck did I miss this band? I had no fucking idea how brutal their music is and that I don’t have the typical punk shame in admitting I don’t know a band I probably should’ve already known and I never have so, in this case, I’m still what I was.
I found myself walking out of the festival venue, crossing the street in the direction of the Golden Nugget about 45 minutes into the Bad Religion’s set- a band that was a HUGE influence on me in High School and on through to the Generator album but were playing songs from the last 20 years of their career that I couldn’t give a shit about. I was crossing over the threshold of the entrance to the Nugget when I heard them bust out into “Against The Grain”, “Do What You Want”, “Suffer”, “I Want to Conquer the World”, “Fuck Armageddon This is Hell”, “No Control” and it had me and about 6 people chain smoking in the valet area of the Nugget, singing Bad Religion songs at the top of our lungs. We could hear the band perfectly from here with the new festival location, which was just across the street from our hotel and one of the most positive examples of, you can’t be what you were…It was a new highlight reel moment for my memory and it didn’t require being back stage to enjoy it, much less being in the pit or the VIP beer garden or even inside the festival proper.
Oh shit- I haven’t even so much as mentioned Discharge yet. Discharge were one of the main reasons not named Iggy Pop that I was excited for this year’s festival. I don’t care if it wasn’t all original members- The Sonics only have ONE original member and the hipster flock to see them like the man with the breadcrumbs at the park. And it was Discharge that made me the last man standing in the Janky contingent because the young guns were too partied out to make it to the fest for the last day. I drove most of us out that weekend and when we got down to valet, I told the crew I was not leaving without seeing Discharge so when I started heading back toward the festival to make my final stand, those little bitch boys jumped on a Greyhound bus back to L.A. I wasn’t even mad in the least. I was embarrassed for them, honestly.
And so along with Discharge and the losing of my shit when the busted out into “Protest and Survive”, we’re back to full circle- me watching The Adicts backstage with a shit eating grin on my face as all 7k people at the festival vivaciously sang along to “Chinese Takeaway”. It also served to remind me how motherfucking bad ass Pennywise were on their first two albums when they busted out into “Unknown Road.” The Pennywise set devolved into a full on bro circus on stage with legends Greg Hetson and Mayor of Punkville, Fat Mike joining em for songs like “Wild in the Streets”.
I don’t remember exactly if it happened before Pennywise or after but Fat Mike, The Sterns and others decapitated the naked Trump statue ceremoniously between sets.
Then the final act of the festival for the weekend- Cock Sparrer.
My surgically repaired knee/leg was in bad shape. The cane I brought to aid me in my travels was in tatters; completely unusable anymore and falling apart. I was the last man standing in a wonderful but completely weird fucking weekend.
And just like that it was over…
What happens when all the outcasts become the cool kids and there’s nothing left of those days except some pins and t-shirts and flyers, some distant, fading memories, drooping, saggy mammary glands and maybe a methadone habit? How does one keep pretending that what you were is what you are now?
There are times that punk rock as we know it, is what 1st wave punk was fighting against at it’s inception- kind of like what the U.S. constitution says vs what is happening in our government.
It wasn’t long before “punk as we know it” became about following the rules of punk- which isn’t very punk at all.
Getting a salon Mohawk for a few hundred dollars and using separate color and cut specialists to create a style that once represented DIY and rejection of dogma and group think.
The thing that stood out most about Punk Rock Bowling 2017 is that there seemed to be clear cut decision by it’s founders to send subtle messages in the line-up and their recent expansion into Asbury Park, New Jersey, letting us know that they can’t be what they were forever…
Intellectually, I know that Shawn and Mark Stern are just regular people that stink up the bathroom after they take a steamy shit in the morning. But the truth is that I want someone to look up to- even at my age. I truly appreciate them for acknowledging our modest publication with the symbolism of them taking time out of the chaotic weeks that lead up to Punk Rock Bowling to sit down with me for an interview and even though I talked shit and even annoyingly “humble bragged” about how un-punk it was for people to participate in the festival, or any show for that matter, in the pretentious self importance of the back stage paradigm for a majority of the proceedings, but there was a little part of me that it validated for the ups and downs of the uncertainty of launching a venture in a saturated and competitive atmosphere… whether that atmosphere is 1 of 100 L.A. music blogs or the endless stream of music festivals that seem to pop up on a yearly basis.
The admission of this runs counter to my personality. The one that will compliment myself or act cool even when faced with the self doubt that occurs anytime you put yourself and your reputation out there to try and reach lofty goals. The only way to recognize and take action on your dreams or to experience or create new and exciting things in a world that can make you fearful to disagree with the majority at any and every turn is the recognition that… you can’t be what you were.
If you ever even came to grips with that in the first place.
Words: Danny Baraz