Concert goers live in a world they believe to be loud and free. But there is, unheard by most, an outer world, a barrier between in and out, just as loud but not as free as they thought — the world outside a venue, where the door guy simply wants you to pay the cover charge. Welcome to a few nights in the life of Tin Roof's door dude, Rex Stickel.
We take a break from our regularly scheduled programming to bring you a little punk-rock adventure in the desert from your favorite local door dude, Rex Stickel.
You only find yourself in Las Vegas for either business or pleasure, and my business was the pleasure of punk rock, in the form of a music festival wrapped around a bowling tournament. We would be celebrating the 20th anniversary of Punk Rock Bowling (PRB) this year, and I was attending with a mixture of old pros and greenhorns like me.
The bowling tournament takes place in an older hotel/casino called Sam's Town, and was the only place so visited that you could taste it. I suspect it has something to do with housing 50 bowling lanes below the casino where everyone smokes, and all the pins knocking around prevent the decade-old smoke from ever settling into the walls. The D, where I was staying, is like a slick uncle. This place was Grandpa.
To your average punk-rock fan, the bowling tournament really is a who's who of the weekend. Our team is bowling on the two lanes next to the Fat Wreck Chords team. Fat Erin is passing out donuts. I recognize the guitar player from Lagwagon. Yeah he's about 6'11" and called Big Bitch, but I still recognized him. Today is Day 1, which is the friendly day. Everyone high fives, shares pitchers of beer, and nobody really even makes fun of Johnny Puke when he falls forward on his face while delivering a ball to the gutter. Like I said, friendly bowling. On Day 2, friends become enemies. It also means loser walks, so your buddies yesterday are now your fierce competition, including the folks right next to you, versus who's next to them and so on. Day 2 is also when everybody is hungover, out of drugs, and pissed off, but this is what it's all about. Sweet bragging rights about winning the trophy.
Here is where the gluttony of fun begins to devour itself: It was time to stop having fun here so we could go over there and have fun. It's a strange side effect of Vegas; I suspect most folks would be late to their own funeral. Hitting the festival on the high of winning money was a grand idea, just in case it turned out to be not so fun. But that was never a problem. We walked up as L7 were ripping through their set, and I'm happy and ready to report they were one of the tightest bands all weekend. They played new songs that sounded as classic as the classics and did themselves justice to anyone who may have considered that ladies of a certain age couldn't rock. They were fantastic.
Suicidal Tendencies played next, and before you could say "Pepsi" they churned out nine or 10 songs that usually included chanting variations of their band name. I've always sensed these guys get away playing by their own rules and always will. It works for what it is, even all these years later. True pioneers. One innovation I did notice during the Suicidal set was one guy hardcore dancing, like really thrashing around on his hands and feet, but he was picking up trash as he was doing it. Sort of brought back my faith in strangers.
The crown jewel of the night and headliner was Rise Against. For some reason I can't come up with a compliment that doesn't sound condescending, so I'll say their performance was something like watching LeBron dunk and do layups all night. True professionals doing what they do for another huge audience who appreciated it. Class act.
The next day at the festival, I almost had to paddle my arms through a sea of Donald Ducks as I had just missed Turbonegro (dammit.) The Bosstones were up there looking sharp, doing their thing, never knocking on wood or whatever. All I knew was next up was NOFX, and they could never do no harm.
But the best was still to come and soon we would be making the journey to the last Club Show of the weekend. Hot Water Music has been a favorite of mine for as long as I can remember, and this was my first chance to see them. Since the venue they were performing at was a staple to the festival, our experienced crew members knew exactly how to spend the time before: screwdrivers made with fresh-squeezed orange juice at Atomic Liquors. Of course this place is awesome, in the artsy up-and-coming part of town, yet still old Vegas at the same time. It was actually named for being a watering hole for scientists and staff working on nuclear tests out in the desert and has the video footage and time capsule right in the floor of the bar to prove it.
The show was next door at an outdoor venue called the Bunkhouse, and we were lucky enough to catch the end of one of the opening bands, Strike Anywhere. Having never heard them before, I was blown away. Exactly the energy we needed to receive and return at that time of night, even after a few screwdrivers. The lead singer gave his white-guy-in-dreads community a real bump up in my book that night. HWM took the stage, and even without co-founder Chris Wollard as part of the lineup, they were everything I had hoped for. Hell, they seemed to have played all my favorite songs. Chris Cresswell from the Flatliners filled in, and couldn't have done a better job. It's such a pleasure to be present for one of your favorite bands just fucking killing it. I appreciate it so much being a door guy and hearing mostly not my favorite bands.
The reality is, punk rock is a finite resource. Going through the last 20 years of bands, the only constant is that we're getting older and closer to death. Why not come out to the desert once a year and try your luck? You just might win a trophy.