One weekend a year, mohawks, piercings and studs flood the streets, alleys and gutters of Downtown Las Vegas as punk rock fans make their annual pilgrimage to the Punk Rock Bowling Music Festival. Performances kicked off Friday night with a series of club shows at Beauty Bar, LVCS, the Bunkhouse and Downtown’s newest venue, Fremont Country Club. Walking through Neonopolis and Fremont East, it is impossible to avoid PRB attendees. They share drinks in the street, panhandle for beer money, and busk Dead Kennedy’s songs on street corners with acoustic guitars. Even Mickie Finnz’s open-air deck, usually occupied by a cover band performing masterful interpretations of Third Eye Blind hits, was packed full of punks and hosted the comedic one-hit wonders Green Jelly and their punk rock puppet show.
But I continued my trek to the official PRB concerts. My weekend got off to a slight misfire when I couldn't get into Fremont Country Club to see local act Guilty by Association kick off the festival. Fans lined the building all the way down the street, wrapping around Backstage Bar & Billiards at one point waiting to see headliners Guttermouth and Strung Out. But no matter; one of the most appealing aspects of PRB is the vast choice of shows every night, so instead I moved on to Beauty Bar for the weekend’s ska showcase of Bohunks, Chris Murray and Suedehead.
Chris Murray is an acoustic solo act, with definite ska and reggae roots. Like most reggae, he uses staccato guitar up strumming and feel good lyrics. Beauty Bar was full inside and out as Chris Murray performed chilled out tunes, and though they were enjoyable, they could hardly drown out the music and ruckus from inside the bar.
Next up were the self proclaimed “international soul rebels” Suedehead, containing former members of Beat Union, The Aggrolites, Hepcat, and TSOL. Suedehead, named for the british subculture influenced by rocksteady and ska, maintains some genre traits—the Fred Perry black polo uniform, a rocking horn section, punchy bass. But what sets Suedehead apart from most ska bands is '60s soul pop flair mixed with some Oi-punk influence. Jams like “I Believe in Love” and “Young & In Love” had fans squeezing and skanking throughout the set. Suedehead was a great find, especially because theirs was one of the few PRB club shows that wasn’t sold out in advance. It was the highlight of my Friday night.
As Suedehead finished up, I headed over to LVCS for the official Bowler Kickoff Party. I arrived to find another venue packed to capacity with fans spilling into the Brass Lounge and onto the balcony as headliner The Lawrence Arms took the stage. The Lawrence Arms is a three-piece Chicago punk outfit that also acted as the nucleus that Midwest punk formed around in the early 2000s. Formed from members from Slapstick, The Broadways and Baxter, The Lawrence Arms have been intertwined with countless other punk bands like Rise Against, Alkaline Trio, and Smoking Popes. TLA’s power punk rock incited an intense pit and crowd surfing as fans frequently rushed and jumped from the stage. TLA’s hoarsely screamed but still melodic vocal duties were split between bassist Brendan Kelly and guitarist Chris McCaughan and the band rocked LVCS until 2 a.m.
Friday night was a strong kick-off party for the 15th Annual Punk Rock Bowling Music Festival, but no time to slow down, the main stage performances begin in just about 12 hours.