Day 2 Brings Attendance Boom
The second day of Punk Rock Bowling Festival, taking place in Asbury Park, New Jersey, was turned up another notch. The temperature was warmer and the bands were heavier. Overall, it was like day one of the festival, but on steroids; the punk fans were in full force and the venue was almost full by the third or fourth band. The previous day, the attendance was somewhat underwhelming until around the time that The Specials took the stage. Day two involved a lot more anticipation — many of the bands on the schedule do not play that often and, for some, it was a pseudo-reunion of sorts. The tickets were cheaper for day two as well, which could also have contributed to the larger crowds on this day. Either way, fans were excited for the second chapter of Punk Rock Bowling.
The day began with the first set around 2:30pm when Hot Blood took the stage. Hot Blood were the second straight opening act for the festival to hail from Asbury Park. The hardcore punk band were in an interesting position playing this festival. Almost one month ago, the lead singer of Hot Blood, Mat Kiley, fell off of a ladder at his day job and broke fractions of his ankle, leading the band to cancel a show in Philadelphia. Although Kiley’s favorite band is NOFX and he really wanted to play Punk Rock Bowling, he had to withdraw himself from the festival for his own personal health. The lead singer was replaced by a friend of the band, Devin Walby, who, all things considered, absolutely crushed it on vocals, really digging deep to sing quality punk rock tracks such as “Burn Down the Church.” Hot Blood did an impressive job of warming up the crowd, even doing a cover of Minor Threat’s “Seeing Red,” which had mosh pits opening up early at perhaps the temperature’s peak for the day. Considering the perseverance this crew showed, punk fans were impressed by Asbury’s own Hot Blood.
The second act of the day had been being hyped up all weekend. Bigwig, from up north in Nutley, NJ, had quite a following of fans at Punk Rock Bowling – attendees with Bigwig shirts could be spotted Saturday and Sunday. When they finally took the stage, the applause was surprisingly loud and lead singer Tom Petta mentioned that the last time Bigwig had played in Asbury Park he got arrested while on stage during the band’s last song. This gained a chuckle from the crowd and Petta sarcastically mentioned how it would probably happen again today. The band played hits like “Flavor Ice” and “Mr. Asshole,” before which they gave a shout out to the “Bennies” — or tourists of the Jersey Shore. Overall, with all the fanhood these guys generated, it was hard not to catch the Bigwig hype.
The third act, Posers, were a Philadelphia-based outfit that played fast-paced punk. Lead singer Jade Baisa’s scream was the signature for Posers and her snake-like stage presence was very charismatic. They had played in the past with NOFX and were clearly very excited to open for them here at this festival.
The Pietasters were one of the most well known third wave ska bands of the ‘90s. Hailing from Washington, D.C., The Pietasters had the now very-filled crowd skanking and having fun in the circle pit. They played their timeless ska songs like “Out All Night,” which young fans might remember from the NCAA Football 2006 soundtrack. With The Pietasters serving as a figurative ska nightcap for Punk Rock Bowling 2017, fans could rest easy with the two very memorable sets from The Specials and The Pietasters.
Leftöver Crack, like Bigwig, were another band that fans were anticipating throughout the weekend. They are an energetic hardcore punk, ska and even metal group from New York. The newest member of Leftöver Crack, Kate Coysh, who was a large part on their 2015 release, Constructs of the State, opened up the set with a screamo-style version of “Dancing in the Dark” by Asbury Park’s golden child Bruce Springsteen. This cover set the tone for the band’s performance, but also got the fans lighthearted and ready to accept the the crew’s amazing performance. The politically charged Leftöver Crack played many anti-police tracks, such as “Gang Control,” “One Dad Cop” and “Crack Rock Steady,” for which they were joined onstage by Pete Steinkopf of New Jersey’s own Bouncing Souls. The band also showed their liberalism with the pro-LGBTQ song, “Gay Rude Boys Unite,” and their fun side with their quasi-cover of “Rainbow Connection,” called “Muppet N.A.M.B.L.A.” Leftöver Crack’s crowd were some of the most involved and interactive spectators of the weekend. They moshed and threw fists in the pit. At one point, a man ran towards the edge of the crowd to vomit and after a few minutes he ran back to the dancing crowd; it was certainly one of those sorts of sets. The lasting impression of this band, plus the hype that was built around them, easily made this a top-three set of the weekend.
As the sun began to come down on the final day of Punk Rock Bowling, Lifetime took the stage for their first show since the 2015 edition of Riot Fest Chicago. The band tend to play less than once a year ever since their comeback in 2005. When they arrived on stage, it was easy to see the members cherished this moment as their entire families were there on the side, supporting them. Lead singer Ari Katz mentioned that there were now nine Lifetime babies, the names of which he was uncertain, he said sarcastically. This alternative punk crew played to a loyal crowd, many of whom had traveled far to see them as they played songs like “Haircuts and T-Shirts” and “Turnpike Gates.”
Buzzcocks were the band before the headliner. This classic punk band from England recently re-released their first two albums, Spiral Scratch and Times Up!, from which they opened with “Boredom,” which is featured on both releases. There were also glimpses of old-school Buzzcocks in songs like “Orgasm Addict” and new-generation Buzzcocks hits like “Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve).” Although the band are much older than they were in their heyday, the Buzzcocks had fans that spanned across all ages. Older men drank beer and belted out tunes like “Harmony In My Head,” while young children sat on their father’s shoulders with their Buzzcocks shirts on. Overall, their set showed the power of punk to relay and spread across many different age groups as we saw Pete Shelley and company bring historic Asbury Park to its feet.
The night was concluded with the legendary ‘90s punk band NOFX, who consisted of their iconic lineup of Fat Mike, El Hefe, Eric Melvin and Erik Sandin. When they took the stage, the band mentioned that this was Melvin’s first show in quite some time, as he just had twins months ago. They also made sure that the crowd was aware of their new record, First Ditch Effort. The thing about seeing NOFX live is that they have their good days and their bad days. Every punk fan is aware of Fat Mike’s substance abuse issues and overall lackadaisical approach to performing live. The band say that they don’t mind messing up a lot, as long as their instruments are still tuned correctly. Tonight, at Punk Rock Bowling, NOFX were somewhere in between good and bad. The band messed up a lot, but based on the time it took to sound check and the constant need to adjust volumes mid-set, it was hard to blame them for some of these issues. This is punk, of course, and any punk fan knows that messing up is part of the appeal; the music was never intended to be complex and perfect anyways. Because of this, the punk rock fans of Asbury Park had a blast singing along to the NOFX set. The band change their setlist every time they play and this one was a mix of a lot of their new songs and classics. The album spread was wide as the group played songs from old albums like Punk In Drublic, while tracks from the newer albums, such as Self Entitled and Wolves In Wolves’ Clothing, were also featured. The crowd tended to go nuts for the classic songs that NOFX are known for such as “Linoleum” and “Don’t Call Me White.” The band did a lot of talking during the set, causing them to actually have to cut some material from their setlist because of the curfew in Asbury Park. Although this was upsetting to some, the crowd had a blast listening to NOFX close out the weekend.
The Punk Rock Bowling Festival was a very diverse festival spanning many different sub-genres and generations of punk. The fans that attended, however, did not mind, and everyone got their money’s worth because of the crazy sets from The Specials, Leftöver Crack and NOFX. Based on the second day’s strong attendance numbers, hopefully Punk Rock Bowling will be back again in Asbury Park next year.
Photo Credit: Raymond Flotat