The opportunity to see Descendents live in the UK is not one that you miss.
This is the second date of their Hypercaffium Spazzinate Euro Tour, and their only UK show. Descendents are forefathers of pop-punk and melodic hardcore. They formed in California in 1977, they’ve had 9 different members, 7 albums, 5 record labels and 4 long-term hiatuses. Their Milo caricature is ubiquitous on t-shirts and a popular tattoo, and yet it is still recognised as an emblem of good taste.
As a band who once said that they ‘couldn’t sell out a telephone booth’, they’ve single-handedly packed 2,300 people into Kentish Town Forum this Sunday night. I’m expecting punks from far and wide: die-hards who first heard them in 1982, Fat Wreck-era fans obsessed with Everything Sucks, newbies who’ve heard they’re legendary, and plenty of lucky boyfriends and girlfriends who have been dragged along.My excitement builds throughout the day: we dig out Milo Goes to College (1982), Everything Sucks (1996) and Hypercaffium Spazzinate (2016) for the ride into London. It’s fun listening to their progression. Descendents have their own classic sound, but there is a stark difference in Milo Auckerman’s vocal: he no longer comes across like an angry teenager. Hypercaffium is a mature and complex recording, but their sound still exudes youthful energy. Instead of being pissed off by their parents, now they are frustrated by the ways of the world.
A major advantage to seeing a respected, older act is that you don’t have to hassle your mates to leave their sofas. I arrive in London early to catch up with old friends, including one who loves Descendents so much that his kid’s middle name is Milo. After a couple of hours in The Black Heart and stuffing an avocado sandwich into my face, we arrive at The Forum. Immediately we run into far-flung friends we weren’t expecting. The bar is a who’s-who of the UK punk scene: I see members of Matilda’s Scoundrels, Chewed Up and Beat The Red Light, plus folks from Colin’s Punk Rock World – that’s without even exploring the venue.
The Kenneths and Abrasive Wheels open the show. Abrasive Wheels are good fun: classic punk from a group of guys who look like they’ve drunk a lot of tinned lager in their time. I enjoy stomping along to their 1982 release When the Punks Go Marching In which sounds, well, exactly as you’d expect it to.
Twenty minutes before Descendents go on, it’s so packed that you can’t get down the steps to the main standing area. We take a spot at the top of the stairs that has an excellent view, slowly being squashed shoulder-to-shoulder as more people cram into the sold-out room.
Descendents take the stage, to a huge cry from the audience. Milo talks briefly about how bad things are in the world today, before firing straight into their pessimist anthem Everything Sux. Shouting along to, “I don’t think anything’s going to be okay,” I’m feeling the exact opposite.
Descendents are as tight and accomplished as you would expect from band of this calibre. They charge through a roster of solid classics with hardly any breaks between songs, never slowing their pace. They storm through Hope, Rotting Out and On Paper in 5 minutes flat, going on to play 28 songs in their main set.
I enjoy the sweet moments when Stephen Egerton shreds on tracks like Clean Sheets, and the poppier melodies on tracks like Shameless Halo. I love that Karl Alvarez has so many neat little bass riffs that they’re what’s stuck in my head when the set finishes, rather than the words. Coolidge gives me flashbacks to The Offspring playing Want You Bad, although Coolidge was released 13 years earlier: an example of how influential Descendents have been. When I Get Old makes me wonder if they can now answer their own questions – they’re definitely not ‘like other adults’.
My partner points out that Stephen Egerton looks exactly like my Dad, and I drift into a reverie, imagining how different my life would be: as a kid living out in Oklahoma with a famous father… as my normal family except my Dad has been hiding a rockstar double-life from us… and the even less likely tearful backstage long-lost-daughter-reunion scenario. I’m elated, to say the least.
Their set-list perfectly mixes songs from different eras, and it’s nice to see that the audience don’t stop dancing for any of the more recent material. There is a crush at the barrier for the entire show, with Milo pausing towards the end to tip bottles of water over the front row. I later overhear a girl complaining that there wasn’t a ‘proper pit’; Descendents fans are a bit older nowadays, and many people were happy to stand back and admire them. On the other hand, I saw a guy stumbling out splattered in fresh blood, which shows your experience depends a lot on where you stand.
I’m a strong believer in only playing encores when they’re demanded by the audience, rather than because it’s expected. When the lights dim, I rack my brains to figure out which songs they haven’t played in their hit-packed set, until my partner points out that we’ve not heard I’m The One. 5 years ago I decided that I’m The One would be the first dance at my (entirely imaginary) wedding and I embarked on a mission the find a man that would suit it (or at least one that would hold my tote bag while I dived into a mosh pit). Three weeks into our relationship my partner made me a mix CD as a gift, featuring none other than I’m The One as the second track – it was this guesture that convinced me he might be a keeper. It’s an important song for me as well as many others, and it lyrically rings true of so many relationships and friendships. On top of all that, it’s hard to think of a better constructed pop song.
They leave it a good amount of time before stepping out of the wings, greeted by a huge cheer. They play one track off Hypercaffium Spazzinate before hurtling into I’m The One, inciting more chaos than any other song. They play two further tracks, making it one of the biggest and most demanded encores I’ve seen in a long time.
There aren’t many bands out there that can pull off two encores, but when Descendents walk off stage there’s an enormous wave of cries for one more song. Although we have started heading out with everyone else, the lights start pulsing and there’s a surge of cheers. People heading for the exit curiously turn around to see what’s happening. Much to everyone’s surprise (and my delight) they come on and do four more songs, including Sour Grapes, Kabuki Girl and my personal favourite off Hypercaffium Spazzinate, Spineless and Scarlet Red.
It’s a stunning end to the evening and I feel elated stumbling out of the venue. Grabbing a salad-stuffed pitta in the nearest kebab shop I see scores of grinning punks – all of whom seem awed by the quality of the show and the friendliness of the crowd. Tonight was a real treat and I’m grateful to have been there to witness it. It will be a show I’m still talking about in 10 years’ time.