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Posters, outfits, guitars, and memorabilia at the Punk Rock Museum.
Posters, outfits, guitars, and memorabilia at the Punk Rock Museum.

Punk Rock Museum

Field review by the editors.

Las Vegas, Nevada

The Punk Rock Museum head butts us with its enthusiastic take on an undervalued part of music culture. Originating from the Los Angeles-based private collection of "Fat Mike" Burkett (of the band NOFX), the 12,000 sq. ft. attraction opened in Las Vegas in 2023. Artifacts and memorabilia detail punk's whole journey -- a journey you may have missed, depending on your age (or if you never formed a band). It's the only attraction where a visitor can get tattooed, have a beer, and share punk rock war stories while marveling at Kurt Cobain's dopesick couch.

Punk Rock Museum.

The tour guides are often guest punk celebs, steering groups to the visual evidence of their colorful careers. Touring band alumni, with families in tow, share what it was all about. "Kids, look at this photo of your dad in the Dick Warts!"

Punk Rock was heralded in mid-1970s media as non-conformist - either brilliant art or rank amateurism - whoever the music press currently embraced or shunned. DIY garage bands disrupting neighborhoods weren't new, but punk emerged as distinctly loud, angry, sarcastic -- with their one-chord speed screeds. Punk's moment in the frazzled spotlight started in New York City, in small clubs like CBGB, with gigs by the Ramones, Television, Patti Smith and their contemporaries. in the meantime, punk incubated in economically depressed England's pub scene, via bands like the Buzzcocks, the Slits, Wire, the Stranglers, the Clash....

Grant from The Smugglers explains Punk's broad inclusiveness.
Grant from The Smugglers explains Punk's broad inclusiveness.

Underground bound at the Punk Rock Museum.
Underground bound at the Punk Rock Museum.

Punk's "no future" chaos was anathema to mainstream radio charts and rock concerts, and offered no ballads about wistful taxi drivers or stairways to heaven. Record labels rapidly pivoted to sign and promote the new sensation. But once Sears started selling pre-ripped t-shirts with adorable safety pins, punk seemed over.

Except it wasn't.

As the Punk Rock Museum gleefully points out, it mutated into many forms. There was hardcore punk, skate punk, anarcho-punk, pop punk. For many it blossomed in the 1990s ("Punk's Big Break"). Or 2000s. Or 2010s.... with mixtures of hiphop and heavy metal and every other genre along the way. We may live in the streaming, post-genre world, but the news hasn't yet reached every garage.

To peel back punk's flesh with razors of insight, K.J. Jansen (Chixdiggit), and Grant Lawrence (The Smugglers) led our tour a few months after the museum opened. They promised an uptempo ride through punk history, emphasizing "The Canadian Connection." Punk is an international phenomenon -- and K.J. and Grant are from Canada. They knew the bands, the clubs, the legendary crash pads.

Wall of important zines at the Punk Rock Museum.
Wall of important zines at the Punk Rock Museum.

The museum, designed by its owner/funders, is two floors of well-lit galleries of photography, artifacts behind glass, and seemingly thousands of show posters, hand-drawn flyers, and photocopied zines. As appropriate music plays in the background, each room offers thematic cohesion, along with a wild mix of artifacts, photos and ephemera. There are familiar acts and musicians, along with obscure items requiring explanation. Grant pointed out Sid Vicious's spiked belt and Chelsea hotel room key, and photos of hardcore punk band Fear, including pre-Go-Gos Belinda Carlisle (when she was in the Germs). A career in punk would often span multiple, short-lived groups.

DEVO Energy Dome hat and mold.
DEVO Energy Dome hat and mold.

In the the British Section, an incredulous member of our tour said: "Really? Punk rock came from America before Britain?"

In the DC hardcore section, a yellowed pastiche of news clippings and photos was, according to Grant, "One of the Teen Idles' bedroom collages. The Teen Idles turned into Minor Threat, which turned into Fugazi. The collage somehow didn't get tossed by his parents."

K.J.: "That's a mold for the DEVO [energy] hat." Grant: "The band from Akron, Ohio that changed music just by being weird."

L.A. band memorabilia abounds -- Anthrax, Black Flag, the Avengers. Some city scenes are a work in progress.

Chixdiggit started in 1990 Calgary, after the jocks in K.J.'s high school formed a band. "We were gonna start a band, too. We all had restaurant jobs, we made up a name and t-shirts, just a fictitious band. Kids said 'I bought your shirt, I wanna see this band.' We used money from the shirts and bought crappy instruments to do one show. Everyone in the crowd had our shirt, and a guy who booked shows in clubs saw it and said 'These guys have a built-in following.'"

K.J. from Chixdiggit points out
K.J. from Chixdiggit points out "These teeth."

Now Chixdiggit is in a museum, along with the Smugglers. Grant pointed at the bottom of a display: "This is a Smuggler's boot, with a little puke on the front there."

The Pennywise Jam Room.
The Pennywise Jam Room.

Grant talked about the community's welcoming culture. "The bands [coming to Vancouver] would stay at my parents' house."

Museum artifacts came together from throughout that community. K.J.: "Every band had an archivist." Grant: "This is kind of like a tidy hoard." The museum invites punk bands to contribute more items -- performance clothing, instruments, tickets, and other minutiae.

K.J.: "Dirty Kurt [Robertson of The Real McKenzies, SNFU], whose guitar this is, took a box from a child's stroller, about this high, plopped the guitar in, wrapped it up in tape [and mailed it]. The headstock and the turner were sticking out of the box, and that's how it arrived, in one piece."

The Pennywise Jam Room) is a faithfully crammed replica (based on a photo) of an actual punk band rehearsal garage, cluttered with equipment and vulgar graffiti.

Though most bands never made more than beer money, some crossed over into super stardom. Grant pointed at a golden Victrola record player trophy: "This is a Nirvana Grammy." K.J. confided, "The [Grammy] rules are they're not supposed to be displayed publicly."

Sit on Kurt Cobain's dopesick sofa.
Sit on Kurt Cobain's dopesick sofa.

The boot of metal legend Lemmy and his personal effects merit their own glassed shrine. Grant: "Sometimes punk rock brings someone into the fold. Punks related to the sound and drive of Motorhead."

K.J. pointed out some risque posters: "Pansy Division was the first all-gay out punk rock band, toured with Green Day, then with us, in small suburban towns, clearly not your average punk rock show for Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. You could see it dawning on the crowd as they played James Bondage, and I'll Jack You Off. They'd start throwing s**t at the band, and we would get into fights." He said the level of prejudice went way down as audiences heard and appreciated bands of any persuasion.

Towards the end, there's an interactive component: a room filled with retired instruments donated by bands. Visitors are invited to grab an infamous guitar and strum their favorite Dropkick Murphys ditty or TSOL tune. While the room chaperone searched for a lost preset on Wesley Willis' keyboard, K.J. provided important context: "Willis [a schizophrenic musician/artist from Chicago] used to greet everybody he met by giving them a head butt."

Since this is Vegas, there's a chapel available for weddings, and since this is punk, there's a tattoo parlor. And a bar. In 2023 the special exhibit gallery featured concert images by photographer Rikki Ercoli, spanning the late seventies to eighties scene in Philadelphia and New York.

The museum is expanding, planning to add a larger performance space.

Punk Rock Museum

The Punk Rock Museum

Address:
1422 Western Ave., Las Vegas, NV
Directions:
I-15 exit 41. Turn east onto NV-159/W. Charleston Blvd, then quickly bear right at the stoplight onto S. Industrial Rd, then immediately bear right onto Western Ave. Drive a quarter-mile to the museum, a black building on the right.
Hours:
M-F 12-8, Sa-Su 10-8 (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
Phone:
702-823-2983
Admission:
Adults $30; Tour $100
RA Rates:
Major Fun
Save to My Sights
Roadside Videos
Punk Rock Museum: Don't Start a Band

The Punk Rock Museum, Las Vegas, Nevada.

Hanging out in the Punk Rock Museum instruments room with Canadian musicians K.J. and Grant.Go to video


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