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Moshing bananas and mohawks: Punk Rock Bowling’s wild return

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“What a party, yeah?”

Yeah.

The observation is made by Nick Cash, frontman for long-running British punks 999, as he gazes out at the crowd before him, his eyes nearly as wide as the stage he’s standing on.

It’s Saturday, Punk Rock Bowling at the Downtown Las Vegas Events Center has just begun, and we’re already slicked with sweat and more than a few drops of hurled beer.

With festivities continuing on Sunday and Monday, here’s how day one went:

3:45 p.m. “I’m like Elton John, I’m still standing,” a guy in line behind us tells his buddy, boasting of his endurance after last night’s club shows as we wait to get into the venue. In front of us, a mom in a cheetah-print jacket slathers her two young daughters in suntan lotion. Partiers, parents and partying parents: that pretty much encapsulates the PRB masses, thousands strong.

4:10 p.m. “Don’t kill yourself this weekend,” advises Bad Cop/Bad Cop singer-guitarist Jennie Cotterill, noting how much of the crowd is drinking beer in place of water in the late afternoon heat. Someone had to say it.

4:42 p.m. A dude with a green mohawk sprays his Pabst tallboy all over the pit and then dumps the rest on his head as garage punk duo Teen Mortgage kicks out serrated, feedback-enhanced jams with vocals suggestive of the harsh blare of a muffler-less hot rod.

5:05 p.m. “We’re going to take you up into orbit through ska, rocksteady and reggae,” announces Ken Stewart, keyboardist for Jamaica’s The Skatalites, who are celebrating their 60th anniversary this year. Talk about a tonal shift: after the righteous skronk of Teen Mortgage, The Skatalites’ horn-fired, largely instrumental set was like a balm for the ears as they intermingled one of their signature tunes, “Guns of Navarone,” with a little “Viva Las Vegas” and were maybe the first band in PRB history to come with a flute solo.

5:57 p.m. Speaking of scene lifers, time for London’s 999, founded in 1976. “We were one of the first bands from the England punk scene to come to America,” frontman Nick Cash noted. “And here we are, 46 years later.” They blazed like the sun above on Saturday, storming through one full-throated sing-along after the next. “The boys are raring to go,” Cash sang on “Feeling Alright With the Crew.” “It’s gonna be a hell of a show.” Yup.

6:20 p.m. “What baby doesn’t need this?” a man wonders rhetorically of a kid’s Motorhead flannel shirt for sale at the Paper Doll booth in the vendor area, where you can also score a sweet Cramps “Bad Music For Bad People” jean jacket for your newborn.

6:49 p.m. Things you only see at PRB: Two dudes costumed as Jesus and a banana, respectively, tearing around the circle pit during Lagwagon’s pop-punk take on Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed-Girl.”

7:10 p.m. “Who’s ready for some New York hardcore,” wonders Madball singer Freddie Cricien. A whole lot of people, as evidenced by the massive throng of fans the band draws to the Street Party Stage. Madball’s set goes down like a testosterone smoothie, all chunky, cinder-block heavy riffs and gang vocal choruses. The band’s performance is a family affair: Cricien brings both his eight-year-old daughter and his 12-year-old son out to sing toward’s set’s end.

7:45 p.m. Perhaps only Billy Bragg could begin a performance with an elaborate duck joke that doubles as a critique of the high costs of medical care. “I remember Joe Strummer telling jokes like that,” Bragg says upon delivering its punchline, one British punk icon reflecting on another. Taking the main stage all by himself, Bragg performed for the first time in Vegas at age 66, his anti-fascist, pro-union repertoire posited on songs of solidarity, which he delivered strong in voice and spirit alike.

8:43 p.m. “I don’t know about you, but I came here to dance,” announces Gorilla Biscuits frontman Anthony “Civ” Civarelli early in his band’s headlining set on the Street Party Stage, where they somehow upped the ante for New York hardcore after Madball before them. What distinguished Gorilla Biscuits from their peers back in the day was an emphasis on empathy as much as brute force. All these years later, they still register as the musical equivalent of getting your head kicked in and then being offered a Band-Aid by your assailant.

9:15 p.m. “We’re the house band,” jokes Descendents guitarist Stephen Egerton at the beginning of his band’s main stage performance. He’s kidding, but not really: this is the sixth time the Descendents have headlined Punk Rock Bowling, the most of any act.

9:50 p.m. The Descendents have fired off two dozen songs already, including the over-caffeinated, 35-second blast of “Coffee Mug.” Their fast, fired-from-a-cannon tunes are alternately droll (“I Like Food;” “My Dad Sucks”) and contemplative. “What will it be like when I get old?” frontman Milo Aukerman asks in song in “When I Get Old.” Who knows. Though the Descendents have been around 47 years now, they haven’t gotten old just yet.

11:55 p.m. Punk Rock Bowling is over — and yet it’s not: After the fest culminates at 10:15 p.m. it’s time to hit one of the nine venues that hosts PRB club shows. We opt for a date with punk rock’s leering id: the Dwarves at Container Park. High among the genre’s most debauched bands ever, the Dwarves take pride in having no pride. As Saturday night raged into Sunday morning, the Dwarves provided the ideal soundtrack: sleep, like social graces, was an afterthought here.

Contact Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476. Follow @jbracelin76 on Instagram

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