I arrived at the closing day of the 16th annual Punk Rock Bowling and Music Festival with Good Riddance’s scream-heavy hardcore filling the stage and an intense heat oppressing the crowd, which was still filing in, if at a slower pace than in previous days.
If you were wondering if Keith Morris is still angry, he is, maybe more than ever. His latest band Off! took the stage at 6 p.m. and seared through tracks off recently released album Wasted Years. Hard as they try to capture their live energy on record, it still doesn’t do them justice, and Morris looks and sounds healthier than in past years.
Leftover Crack performed a mostly uneventful set of anti-everything crust punk. I think I may have set my mayhem expectations too high for the NYC crew, which has been banned from nearly everywhere.
The highlight performance of this year’s festival once again came from Laura Jane Grace and Against Me! This year’s Transgender Dysphoria Blues—which tackles gender roles and society’s definitions of them—might be the band’s best album to date, and it translates solidly to live performance. Songs like “True Trans Soul Rebel,” “Unconditional Love,” “Drinking With the Jocks” and the album’s closing powerhouse, “Black Me Out,” burn with true emotion, and Laura’s voice sounds strong as ever. Against Me! has also seen its lineup change recently, with Atom Willard (Rocket From the Crypt) joining up to play drums. His forceful style is simple but tasteful and has taken AM’s songs to an improved level. Favorites like “Don’t Lose Touch,” “I Was a Teenage Anarchist,” “Sink, Florida, Sink” and “New Wave” have never sounded so good.
The festival’s closer was NOFX, no stranger to the Punk Rock Bowling main stage. Frontman/bassist Fat Mike has performed all 16 years, and the Fat Wreck Chords team has twice been the overall champion of the PRB bowling tourney. The band is still hilarious onstage, with Fat Mike’s antics paired with El Hefe’s one-liners. “Bob,” “Linoleum” and “Don’t Call Me White” can still get a pit frenzied, and NOFX also debuted a Punk Rock Bowling theme song, “Who’s Gonna Be the First to OD at PRB.” Fat Mike also provided a moment of seriousness in tribute to fallen friend Tony Sly, covering “Shortest Pier” with the preface, “It’s not a Punk Rock Bowling without Tony.” The same could be said for NOFX.
With another amazing, exhausting experience in the books, it's clear Punk Rock Bowling is ready to take it’s next evolutionary step forward. The Stern brothers have grown the event wisely and carefully—from its bowling-alley roots to its big move Downtown—and I can't wait for whatever comes next.