A Punk Rock Festival in Las Vegas sounds so weird because punk rock is not what we have in mind each time we visit the gambling city, but there are in fact so many Las Vegas and obviously, when you get to know the place a bit more, the idea starts to make more sense. Miles away from the glamour of the strip and the tourists’ attractions, where billionaire Wynn’s hotel faces Trump’s, where luxury abounds with multi-million-dollar hotels with waterfalls and exotic animals and gardens, Punk Rock Bowling and Music Festival is going very strong in its 19th year, and its Las Vegas version takes over the city’s downtown where punks gather for four days of fun. Downtown Las Vegas is a different story from the Bellagio’s fountains and the Mirage’s Cirque du Soleil spectacles. Move over immaculate Cesar’s palace with your eternal Celine Dion recital, DLV is dirtier, punkier and rawer, with dark old town bars and stickers-covered facades, right next to Fremont Street experience, a place, I guarantee you, that never sleeps, especially on a Memorial Day weekend.
Iggy Pop was headlining the event on Saturday, so when you get a photo pass for an event like this one and have the chance to shoot an icon, a legend, you can’t say no and I obviously had to go back to Las Vegas.
Despite the punk ambiance around me, Las Vegas in May is still a strange place for a gathering of spiky hair, heavily-tattooed black-shirt people, ‘Sunshine is not my scene’ told us Drug Church’s frontman, and I can understand this, the average dark punk outfit is not made for a 100ºF sun and we were all melting when waiting online for our media passes. I didn’t see the first act, but before Drug Church, Canadian female duo Mobina Galore had a very raucous young frontwoman hurling her guts over melodic power chords. She was aggressive like most of the bands I saw that day, but also looked so tough despite this brutal heat. There was only one stage and very short interruptions between acts, and Drug Church followed rapidly with a theatrical frontman who told us he was living in a cave, so imagine his fury facing this terrible sun! The result was raw and discordant, almost nihilistic in a hardcore way while the frontman was joking about the crowd which had found a shadowy area… ‘I was kind of offended by the gap, then I realized it was self-preservation’, he joked before more gut-wrenching screaming.
Plague Vendor was a great surprise as the singer gave the most punk rock performance of the afternoon, channeling Iggy himself, acting as a frenetic beast and it became especially true when he removed his shirt. He also had this very sexy way to hold the mic stand as if he was looking for a fight, and he jumped in the crowd and started the first ferocious mosh pit of the day. His performance had some of the godfather of punk’s decadence as he was teasing us, halfway unbuttoning his fly, touching his private parts, emptying bottles of water at the top of his head… the music sounded aggressive from start to finish and he managed to look dangerous with this damn heat.
There was a pause in the aggression level with the Interrupters, a Ska band bringing good spirit in the crowd. They played all the hits, and I knew most of them. They were bouncing all over the place and made everyone happy with a positive dynamism and about zero darkness this time.
The Spits had a more-than-true mechanical punk delivery and many of their songs sounded like the Ramones. They launched their music like little bullets and a sort of goofiness (some stage costumes they didn’t keep very long) and a real playfulness, but they spat their songs and barked the lyrics as fast as they could.
I have seen OFF! a few times and Keith Morris always seems in a very bad mood, they followed with a brutal punk hardcore set with Keith hurling as if he was in great pain while Dimitri Coast and Steven McDonald were flying all over the place. ‘I write about politics but this one has nothing to do with politics! This is called ‘Time is not on our side’’, screamed Keith after telling us to register to vote (there was a booth for that) and banishing the Trump family, the Bush family, the ‘Clints’… so Keith, do you still believe we can change this trend by… voting? In any case their hardcore set of music was totally anti-Vegas, at least the Vegas we all know.
Me First and the Gimme Gimmes was a bizarre distraction just before Iggy Pop,, they were a flamboyant cover band which played the hits, all the hits, just completely punk-ified, and when I say hits, I mean Elton John’s Rocket Man’, Dolly Parton’s ‘Jolene’, Paul Simon’s ‘Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard’… they also covered the Beatles or John Denver, fast and loud, punked to the max. ‘This next one is a cover,’ repeated the frontman… they were all covers and after a few songs, it started to become a cheesy punk karaoke, but people loved them.
I bet many people were at the festival to see Iggy Pop, who took the stage a bit after 10 pm. At 70, he still thrones as the godfather of punk, he is an icon, a reference for any punk show and band, and he is still on fire. I have seen him a few times, and I wonder, was there even one time when he wasn’t on fire?
He played all the hits, the decadent and dangerous ones, ‘I Wanna be your Dog’, ‘Gimme Danger’, ‘The Passenger’, ‘Lust for Life’, ‘Search and Destroy’, ‘No Fun’, ‘Raw Power’… he called us a million times ‘motherfuckers’, he was in the pit at the second song, right between the hands of many adoring fans who got really really excited to see him so close.
The photo pit was brutal, after two songs we were out (at Iggy’s request according to the security guards) although nobody wanted to leave. They had restricted access to some parts of the pit because Iggy wanted to jump a few times there, so it was a photographers’ battle. During his set, people never stopped crowd surfing, and I don’t even know what was going on in the back. A young man tried to climb the stage a few times, before being stopped and almost strangled by one guard. It was brutal and raw, as a punk show should be.
Iggy was back with the Stooges classics, raw and wild as if he had never recorded his Post-Pop Depression… yep! Nothing from that new album, but plenty of old school songs and a few covers, such as ‘Repo Man’ and The Dee Jays’ ‘Real Wild Child’.
If my close-ups revealed a withered skin under his eternal beach tan, his blue eyes were as brilliant as ever, his stage antics were still all over the place (he jumped into that pit a few times, and the stage was high!), and he installed chaos as soon as he started singing ‘I Wanna be Your Dog’,… even his somewhat limped walking looked fierce and unstoppable, transcending punk rock history in a little more than an hour.
The crowd was very diverse but mostly very young, and they all seemed to venerate him as if he was the new king in town, and, in a festival which was making fun of another 70-year-old famous king with a ridiculously funny micropenis statue and some ‘agent orange’, ‘not my president’ shirts, Iggy Pop looked like the most loved death defier who has ever existed.
The venue is deeply symbolic
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