Pete's Pop-Punk Pilgrimage: Part Three
03-Mar-2013 By Peter Zaluzny
Part 1 is here.
Part 2 is here.
The night became a veritable collection of greatest hits, with Descendents throwing out tracks from every corner of their career. Some slow (by punk standards) loaded with the pop induced harmonies, others fast, raw and uncompromising, with Aukerman barking away and Egerton stopping every now and then to bust out complex riffs. They never missed a beat, never screwed up, and rarely took a second to breath. At every fourth song or so, they slowed down a notch to recharge the batteries for another three songs of pure power. By contrast, the crowd was constantly going nuts. A main circle pit had opened up, while a few tiny impromptu ones were dotted around the venue.
"Suburban Home" wrapped up and the whole band converged next to the drums while Egerton sustained a chord. They all looked his way, and with the slightest tilt of his guitar they began "Clean Sheets". It was clear who was leading the pack, in terms of timing, but there was no one member of the band that stood out above the rest. That is until Stephen unleashed the Solo.
Another short song followed.
"I'm the One!"
The band's smash hit that largely brought them mainstream recognition. Naturally the room went wild. Despite bringing mainstream attention to the band, it's still adored by fans. Nick and I began to jump around in our own little space at the back of the room, by the bar. Me, headbanging, because that's all I know how to do, and Nick spinning in circles. We'd maintained a good composure for most of the show, but by this point, we couldn't contain ourselves. If Milo Aukerman could get up in front of a couple of thousand people and dance like he would at a kid's 21st, then Nick and I could run around at the back of the room, with no need for any kind of justification.
"Fuck it," I thought, and we went wild. We weren't the only ones. People were dancing up the back and in the middle, one drunk guy was stumbling in all directions, somehow pivoting his head so it always faced the stage. He had one arm raised in admiration, the other outstretched to maintain balance. The smart thing would have been to fall down, but this guy had built up so much momentum that he didn't want to stop, as each top heavy step took him in an unknown direction. He never broke eye contact with the stage.
I was too young to have gone to any of the legendary rock festivals of the early 90s, where if you weren't watching the stage you were skating. Or any of the festivals of the 80s where punk rock was actually a thing, and not touted by bands who want to sound cool while working out how they can explain to their fans that the advertising contract with Kentucky Fried Chicken is acceptable. But I like to think that this is what it would have been like. At this gig, the people on stage seemed just as filthy and burnt out as everyone in the crowd. We were all in this together. There were no egos, no prima donna sentiments. Nobody was looking for fights in the crowd or taking ridiculous amounts of drugs and trying to beat the shit out of someone in an attempt to impress the opposite sex. We were drunk, we were rowdy. We were fans of punk rock.
Although they couldn't perform, the members of Frenzal who weren't struck down with illness were partying side of stage, especially Lindsay 'The Doctor' McDougall, who bore the excitement of underage kid who'd snuck into his first concert.
"I need to take it down a little bit, have a little moment of introspection." Aukerman was beginning what seemed like a monologue. He turned to the drum kit, and grabbed what looked like the ten commandments, printed on a piece of cardboard shaped like a tombstone. "You may get wired once every couple of days, oh, once every couple of hours, you may get wired. This is where we pause, refresh, we take stock of our lives and contemplate the All-O-Gistics."
The crowd cheered as he raised the cardboard plaque with one hand, reading them off one by one, while the band strummed below. It was the ultimate statement of juvenile behaviour.
"Thou shalt not suppress flatulence!
The church of the fart jokes. If Milo hadn't opted for careers in music and biochemistry, he could have made it as a preacher. Or a dancer.
"I Wanna Be a Bear!"
They quickly rolled off song after song, barely taking a second for themselves. When they opened up the much more relaxed "Get the Time", the surf rocker inside Nick and I came out and we began to boogie. No dancing, no headbanging, just awkward boogying , the kind of shit that would have fit in in the seventies. Again, nobody cared, and we weren't the only ones dancing like morons. Descendents just have that effect on people, and given that we were now well past the halfway point, everyone was pretty damn loose. The band looked like they needed a break but they pushed through, giving themselves a little more time between songs, which by their standards was an extra couple of seconds.
"This is our last song of the night thanks a lot you guys!"
We hadn't realised, but almost an hour had gone by, and to celebrate, they played "I'm Not a Loser". For one fan in a green shirt and black cap it was all too much, and he ran on stage to meet his idols. From the crowd's view he legged it over from the left, caught Aukerman's eye and lept into his arms. Milo grabbed greenshirt, lifted him up, and they burst out laughing. Evidently the only people that gave a damn were security, as Milo grabbed Greenshirt, sang the first line of "I'm Not a Loser" then tried to hand him the mic. Meanwhile, the roadie was trying to hold back security. Greenshirt turned to the crowd, ignored the mic and threw himself on Milo again, who couldn't stop laughing and still managed to sing despite the tight grip Greenshirt had around his neck. The singer didn't care, Greenshirt looked like he'd just had the greatest experience of his life, and security were pissed. Despite the roadie's efforts, two burly bastards tore Greenshirt off Aukerman and dragged him away.
The roadie wasn't impressed, but the band played on. Milo's shirt was bearing a few sweat stains from his friend's hug. It was a shame to see him go, he didn't cause any problems and the band clearly enjoyed it. It reminded us that the Descendents were from a different generation, when running on stage and causing a ruckus was considered part of punk rock. It's a genre where the band and fans share the performances, a rowdy, energetic, carefree atmosphere that invites people to do stupid shit for a laugh. Bands like Descendents embrace those moments, but sadly, insurance issues and fears that guys like Greenshirt will trip on a lead, break their neck and sue the venue outrank a band's desire to embrace what once was. Security weren't there to protect Descendents. They were there to protect the venue.
The so called 'conclusion' lasted around 60 seconds (the longest break they'd had all night), as Descedents quickly returned for their encore. Milo waved indifferently to the crowd, focussing on downing as much water as he could before the next batch of songs, while Bill Stevenson stepped forward to greet the crowd.
"Hola! Buenos nochez! Heya! We're gonna play a little more, and these ones, we're playing for the Frenzal guys that couldn't play." The response from the crowd was loud enough to drown him out for a few seconds. "Some of them are here tonight, but they weren't able to play their shows and that's a bummer, so we'll play these ones for them."
"Yeah!" the singer agreed. "I found myself doing something unusual today," he continued, opening up a giant monologue on the importance of record stores and physical media. It was also a good opportunity for him to dump on digital downloads, and it seemed that a good portion of the audience agreed.
"I went to a record store, it was crazy, they still exist," he said. "Did you know that?" he asked Egerton.
"There's one," he replied.
Then he turned to the crowd and talked about the in store signing Descendents did at Utopia Records earlier that day. Utopia is one of those classic metal based record shops that flatly refuses to die. It's hosted more in-stores over the years than anyone can remember, and any self respecting metal/punk/rock fan from Sydney at least knows the place exists.
"You know that was Utopia's 35th anniversary, and I love going to a place like that because, well, does everything have to be digital? Am I just getting old?"
"You don't want me to answer that," replied Karl Alvarez.
Underneath the monologue, the rest of the band were starting to play a song. Whether they wanted to shut Aukerman up, or whether it was just part of the plan, Stevenson started playing loudly. Aukerman turned and faced the audience.
"Ok, this song's for all of you other twenty year old girls, JESUS CHRIST!"
The encore finally began with "Sour Grapes". Knowing that there were only a few songs left, the whole room erupted in a carefree frenzy of pop punk stupidity. Nick and I ran around in circles, a girl next to us tried to drunkenly dance, while her knees struggled against the forces of gravity, a fat guy and his skinny mate started a two person circle pit. Behind us a couple were ignoring the show, more interested in each other's faces, although it was difficult to tell who, specifically, was getting lucky. The "we don't give a fuck," attitude of Descendents was infections, and by this point, everyone had taken a hit.
People were running on base motor skills. Exhausted. Drunk. Stoned. Good people, struggling to survive after expending so much energy during the show. They knew a band was playing, and for some reason their bodies told them to move around, but their minds could only calculate so much. Reaching that stage at a show is oddly liberating. With so few mental capabilities left, you tend to forget that everything but the band exists. It's a struggle to survive, and you know you'll be destroyed once the show ends, but as long as the music continues, your mind stays active, and your body takes control of itself.
Milo screamed on stage, barking out the words to "Kabuki Girl" and "Catalina", shouting shit about life and boats, leading the Big Top in for their final song. "You can't ruin my day, you can't tell me what to do!"
Truer words could not have been spoken. In the last minute, Descendents unleashed what little bit they had left, especially Stephen Egertn who half ran around the stage, while Aukerman sang so loudly he almost blew up the PA.
"Get! You! Out! Of! My! Heeaaaaaaaaad!"
"Thank you," said Milo, and he ran off stage. The rest of the band followed suit. The power of that final word, the final chord, and the final drum beat, resonated through the room. We didn't need a prolonged goodbye from the band, "Catalina" was their send off, and any attempt to stick around would have dulled the effect. The beauty of these shows is that the last thing you hear is the end of a song, not a band saying thank you over and over to a couple of thousand people. It's a much better way to end a gig.
The house lights immediately came on, ending over four hours of pop punk, punk rock or rock pop if you really want to label it. The punters filed out, some laughing, some singing, everyone talking about how much fun Descendents were. Some stumbled out, with little to no energy left and lots of booze in their systems, yet the paramedic room appeared to remain free of injured fans. The floor cleared, revealing a sea of empty plastic cups, almost enough to restock every bar in Sydney.
Descendents made it blatantly clear why they are remembered as pioneers of the pop punk movement, and why they're still considered to be one of the best in the genre. They performed with musical finesse, an amazing amount of on stage energy, and hilarious crowd interaction, all of which culminated in a conclusion that at heart, these four guys were still twenty years old.
"Anyone who wasn't amazed by that is a fuck head," said Nick.
He was right.
Peter is a writer and photographer and also writes about video games for DustyCartridge.com
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