TVD Live Shots: Descendents at Rams Head Live, 12/1

For a band whose mantra contains the phrase “couldn’t sell out a telephone booth,” Descendents, the long running California-based foursome, have been dishing out clever, slacker satire for years, clearly underestimating just how deep their influence runs and how un-nerdy they really may be. Last Friday night, the enthusiastic crowd at Rams Head Live in Baltimore got a chance to witness this for themselves—and to pay their respects to a band who deserves more than their share.

When it comes to melodic punk, the Descendents are practically the forefathers of the genre, particularly for emo-core. In fact, I’d argue that the band inspired that label altogether. Mixing classic hardcore sounds with singer Milo Aukerman’s metallic vocal sensibilities and often fast paced lyrics, the band rose to prominence in the California punk scene after their formation in the late 1970s. Stylistically, the Descendents have been tagged with many labels from pop-punk, skate-punk, power-pop, and emotional-hardcore. The band’s upbeat tempos are regularly infused with melodic bass lines and harmonic guitar breaks. Toss in a scoop of well sung melodies—usually with lyrics about coffee, flatulence, defecation, and sometimes just about a girl—what you get is a mix of relatable, fun, and heartbreaking songs.

Since the glory days of post-hardcore, the Descendents’ style has become wildly pervasive. Along with Dag Nasty, Buzzcocks, and The Queers, the Descendents’ sound has directly influenced Nirvana and Green Day, and their influence lingers on The Offspring, Pennywise,  NOFX, Good Charlotte, Taking Back Sunday, and the abominable Blink 182. The 2013 documentary, Filmage is a worthwhile look at the band’s history and features interviews with members of Black Flag, Fugazi, and Minutemen. There’s also a Descendents brand IPA, “Feel This Coffee,” from Mikkeller Brewery. The beverage is named after a track from their latest album and another Descendents mantra—their love of coffee.

For me, the band’s live album, Liveage! (1987) captures more raw emotion than most live efforts to date—by any band. Recorded during their short “FinAll” tour to support their album All, songs from Liveage! are the soundtrack to countless classic skateboard videos and in some ways defines the culture itself. Their second live album, Hallraker: Live! (1989) was recorded around the same period and released in an effort to show a more well-rounded view of the band. While Hallraker: Live! boasts songs like “Cheer,” “Pep Talk,” and “Iceman,” the album is commonly thought of as the band’s “other” live album.

Descendents have maintained a steady lineup since 1986. Vocalist and self-proclaimed nerd, Milo Aukerman (who actually has a PhD in biochemistry) serves as frontman, while founding member Bill Stevenson (Black Flag) still has one of the fastest drumrolls in the business. The revered Karl Alvarez (The Last, The Lemonheads) brings his melodic style to the bass, and Stephen Egerton (Slorder) delivers the driving riffs on guitar.

Friday night Descendents continued their tradition of live energy and intensity giving the crowd in Baltimore—which spanned all ages—a set to remember. Performing classic songs and some newer tracks, their set contained “Everything Sucks,” “Hope,” “When I Get Old,” “I Wanna Be A Bear,” “I Like Food,” “Pervert,” “Clean Sheets,” “Coolidge,” “Silly Girl,” “Myage,” “Get the Time,” “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up,” “Van,” “Suburban Home,” “Weinerschnitzel,” “I’m the One,” and “Bikeage.” “Sour Grapes” was the second and last encore followed by crowd favorite, “Catalina.”

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