Mainstage festivities at the 15th Annual Punk Rock Bowling Music Festival kicked off at 3:30 p.m. Saturday with local rockettes the Dirty Panties opening the day. The festival layout is very similar to last year’s setup. The main stage still backs up to Stewart Ave, but there are some minor alterations—the entrance has shifted from Las Vegas Boulevard to Seventh Street and an additional beer garden has been added closer to the stage. All three days of the festival are sold out this year; still, it isn’t until after 6 p.m. that the main stage area really fills up, with fans trickling in from the long line stretching for blocks outside of the main entrance.
It is also at this time that the Briggs took the stage. Though hailing from LA, the Briggs’ sound has always had a distinct UK influence present, underscored by their frequent use of chanted choruses and gang vocals. They closed their set with fan favorite and hometown ode “This is LA.” Swingin’ Utters came next with manic frontman Johnny “Peebucks” shaking and jerking across the stage as the Bay Area natives performed their street punk songs with speed and angst, setting the stage well for the Weirdos to follow.
One of a handful first wave punk acts booked on this years festival, the Weirdos made a rare stage appearance yesterday as the sun set. Their short lifespan but influential catalogue paved the way for many of the bands performing at this festival. The Weirdos have maintained their absurdity as years have passed and “A Life of Crime” and “We Got the Neutron Bomb” still hold up as great punk anthems.
Next up was a seminal British punk group, the Damned. They are often credited as influencing the Goth movement and it is easy to hear (and see) the aspects that bands like the Misfits took their inspiration from. Lead singer Dave Vanian’s voice still booms with theatrical weight but the Damned are faster and less brooding than modern goth. Opener “Love Song” and “Ignite” were two highlights from their set.
The stage ran perfectly on schedule all day; you could set your watch to the set times and headliner Devo took the stage right at 10 p.m. to close out the first day. As founding member Jerry Casale forecasted when we spoke earlier in the week, their set covered the full Devo catalogue with a heavy focus on Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! and 2010’s Something for Everybody, including “Don’t Shoot,” “What We Do,” “Fresh," “The Girl You Want,” “Whip It,” “Jocko Homo,” and the most climactic song from any band that performed Saturday, “Uncontrollable Urge.” Devo puts on a spectacle in every sense of the word. It is fun, intense, overwhelming and sardonic, and I was interested to see how the hardcore punks in the audience would take to their tongue-in-cheek electro-pop. I was happy to see the pit that had existed most of the day seamlessly transform into a dance circle as soon as Devo blasted their heavily fuzzed guitar and synth. Devo’s style is set apart from modern electronic music because of its melodic, vocal-driven structure, and their hour set was Saturday’s highlight without question.
As Devo finished I headed back to Fremont Street to partake in the club shows. Unfortunately, the line at Fremont Country Club was already stretched around the corner past Backstage Bar & Billiards for the second night in a row, with fans who purchased tickets in advance having to wait up to an hour and half to gain entry and missing most of the support acts for the Business and Agnostic Front. So instead, I headed to the Beauty Bar to see perennial favorite Kevin Seconds perform a solo-acoustic set. The Beauty Bar was full again and Kevin gave his all, as he is known to do. After only four songs, he announced, “I'm starting to lose my voice, and I have another gig tomorrow. But I guess tomorrow is all about hardcore so who cares, all I have to do is scream.” He completed a great set featuring some newer material including “My Recollection” and “Forever Try," capping another great punk rock night. And we’re barely halfway through the weekend.