The Punk Rock Bowling festival has existed for years in Las Vegas, but its first-ever East Coast edition is now underway at Asbury Park's Stone Pony Summer Stage. After some night shows on Friday (6/10), the fest began in proper on Saturday afternoon (6/11). It's a good setup, with just one stage and no overlapping sets and really quick turnover between bands. And Saturday's bill was put together really well, with promising younger bands playing early in the day, into a couple '90s-era vets, into some of the most legendary punk bands around.
It was a stacked day, but the biggest deal had to be the headlining set from the Descendents. They're hot on the heels of announcing a new album, their first since reuniting in 2010 and first since 2004's Cool to Be You. Almost all the bands talked on stage about being thrilled to be playing with them. Dag Nasty's Brian Baker called them his favorite band of all time.
"We have a new album coming out and we're gonna play some songs off of that," Milo Aukerman said to loads of cheers. "But not right away." Then he yelled "It's not my imagination... EVERYTHING SUCKSSSSS," as the crowd erupted again and Milo and the band went into the title track off their 1996 record. They stacked their set with songs off that album, their classic 1982 debut Milo Goes to College, and stuff from all over their career (including those new ones). We got "Myage," "Suburban Home," "Hope," "I Don't Want To Grow Up," "Pervert," "I'm the One," and plenty more, and they sounded as spirited today as they do on those decades-old records. The new stuff fit right in too. The only song we've heard recorded from the new album is the just-released single "Victim of Me" (which they played), but judging by all the new stuff in the set, it looks like this album is gonna be another batch of classic-sounding Descendents songs. Considering they still play like pros and their classics haven't gone out of style one bit, that's a very, very good thing.
While I may have called Descendents the biggest deal on the fest, a very close second was the reunited Dag Nasty -- with their original lineup of guitarist Brian Baker, singer Shawn Brown, bassist Roger Marbury, and drummer Colin Sears -- who also have new music which they played. At first I wished they would've instead reunited with Dave Smalley, who sang on their classic 1986 debut Can I Say (which Smalley is performing in full in NYC soon), but Shawn Brown (later of Swiz and much more recently of Red Hare) totally crushed it. Even if I'm used to the Smalley versions, a bunch of those Can I Say songs were originally written with Shawn Brown anyway (and those versions were eventually released in 2010), so it shouldn't really be a surprise that Shawn is a total natural with them. As for the rest of the band, holy shit are they tight. They've done some one-off reunions in the recent past, but it's the first time in years that they're a consistently-touring band again and they're too good to not stay one. Brian Baker's probably remained the most active of them all, doing a lot of time in Bad Religion over the years. He looked and sounded great as ever with them when I saw them last year, but he seemed even more thrilled to be playing the Dag Nasty show. He was smiling the whole time, telling the crowd how grateful he was to be playing (and also rocking a "Trump is a pig" tee). Descendents have been back for six years now so it wasn't really a surprise that they killed it, but I wasn't expecting Dag Nasty to be as loud/tight/professional as they were. They gave off a vibe like they were one of the biggest bands in the world (in a good way). Maybe it's not too late for that to actually become true.
The other legendary band of the day was UK vets Subhumans, who brought a much-welcome dose of snotty, politicized punk. Whipping out favorites like "Apathy" and "Business Man," Dick Lucas & co. were just as brash and confrontational as you'd hope. They came on after H2O, whose Toby Morse shouted out Green Day and The Offspring for helping introduce people to punk rock, and it's kind of amazing that even in a time where "punk" bands are household names and staples of Classic Rock Radio, Subhumans still seem like a band who would freak people out. (Not this crowd of studded leather, back patch-favoring people, but plenty of other people.) Dick seemed as fed up with economy and government, and as optimistic that change is possible, as he did when he first wrote those songs three decades ago. Punk ethics fade for a lot of people, but not for Subhumans.
As just mentioned, before Subhumans it was H2O, who sounded great, and who seemingly spontaneously brought out the singer of Marginal Man (who apparently just happened to be in the crowd) to do Marginal Man's "Friend," which H2O recorded for their 1997 album Thicker than Water (that's pictured above). Before H2O was great sets from reunited Chicago punks 88 Fingers Louie, glammy Italian band Giuda (who have a serious amount of swagger), and Long Island faves Iron Chic.
Punk Rock Bowling wraps up today (6/12) with Cock Sparrer, FLAG, and more. Check out a few more Instagram pics and videos from Saturday: