“Is everyone having a good time?” asked the dreadlocked, crazy eyed, Flag frontman Keith Morris as he strolled onto the Punk Rock Bowling mainstage to massive applause.
Now in its 18th year, PRB’s annual celebration of punk rock music and bowling prowess still doesn’t get enough credit when it comes to mixing up eras. I mean, where else can you see the latest Fat Wreck bands hobnobbing with British punk legends? Ok, maybe Riot Fest. But let me ask you this: where can you see them fraternizing in their best swim trunks and bowling shoes before the gig and then catch them pulling the lever of the Sex and the City slot machine after?
That said, Saturday’s first full day festival show could easily be categorized as “old school,” with Flag, The Exploited and Subhumans among the night’s biggest names. If you’ve ever owned a backpatch or the type of belt the TSA wouldn’t allow on a plane, day one was your beer soaked heaven.
Flag, which brings together former Black Flag members Keith Morris, Chuck Dukowski, Bill Stevenson and Dez Cadena, along with Descendents/ALL guitarist Stephen Egerton, to play all the Black Flag songs we know and love, was ready to close out the first full day of PRB 2016 by playing the old school hits. And the crowd, many decked out in Black Flag bars recently purchased from one of the many booths selling them, went ballistic from note one. I lost count of how many pits opened as the band blasted through nihilistic anthems like “Fix Me,” “Nervous Breakdown” and “My War,” slowing down only to deal with slight technical difficulties. “Give us a break, we haven’t played in 3 years” joked Morris.
All the way from Scotland, The Exploited proved that Punk’s Not Dead isn’t just the name of the band’s seminal album, it’s also a prophecy come true. As soon as the band launched into “Let’s Start a War (Said Maggie One Day),” hundreds of punks pounded their last PBR tall boy, gulped down their sliders or vegan tacos and sprinted from the beer tent to the barrier to sing along. Despite the fact that the band was showing their age by playing a bit slower than on the record, I can’t deny how cool it was when the band invited a hundred or so fans on stage to help sing “Sex and Violence.”
Punk was also alive and well in returning favorites Subhumans and PRB newbies The Bronx, two bands from different eras with contenders for best frontman of the day. When it comes to 1980s anarcho-punks Subhumans, it’s just a joy to watch frontman Dick Lucas, his wiry frame and slight grin betraying his cynical lyrics on songs like “Apathy” and “No.” The Bronx? Vocalist Matt Caughthran treated a never ending wave of crowd surfers to his wild howl. Caughthran belted out lyrics over turn of the millennium hardcore-meets-garage rock anthems like “Heart Attack American” and “The Unholy Hand” with multiple dedications to Joey Ramone and a huge grin on his face.
Youth Brigade frontman Shawn Stern announced “Drinking is what Punk Rock Bowling is all about” during his band’s set, and as the man who started this whole thing (with brother/YB drummer Mark Stern), I think we have to take his word as gospel (I did my part by downing a purple Gatorade, though maybe that’s not what he meant?). Youth Brigade has spent too many years away from the stage, but they sounded as fresh as they ever did when launching into the appropriately titled “Where Are All The Old Man Bars.” Maybe it was because they had the help of Old Man Markley’s Joey Balls and John Carey on bass and guitars. After a couple well timed jokes against the big joke himself Donald Trump (“Nazi Trumps Fuck Off” Shawn exclaimed, a sentiment inspired by a side stage Jello Biafra), they had about 100 other punks on stage to help them, inviting the fans up to sing “Sink With California.”
This year’s festival was my first taste of Noi!se, a streetpunk band from Tacoma, WA who remind me a lot of Cock Sparrer, The Briggs and The Civilians. These guys were damn good, with a confident stage presence and enough shouted “heys” to get the fans slowly spilling onto the blacktop with fists pumped high. OG skate punks JFA, who not surprisingly announced that they came over from a skateboarding sesh, teased the crowd for being too ugly in the oppressively bright daylight, frontman Brian Brannon later donning shades to replicate that dimmed, dive bar feel before jumping onto the barrier to sing “Jodie Foster’s Army.”
Opening PRB can be rough, as many of the ticket holders are nursing hangovers or rocking out at a pool show. That means the crowd is painfully slim and it’s hard to tell if the people against the barrier are there to see the band or to steal a bit of the stage’s long shadow. Either way, those fans got a treat with a great couple of up-and-comers. The Damnit Jims features members of New Cold War and DC Fallout and their humorous lyrics and addictive hooks was a bright spot to start the day, segueing nicely into the appropriately named Melted, a band whose movements were as wild as their rock-n-roll infused punk rock tunes.
Next: The proud, the few, the Dillinger Four! Oh yeah, and DESCENDENTS.
Photos by Anthony Constantine | https://www.facebook.com/anthonycphotography