I don’t often review old school punk shows. It’s not that I hate punk rock, but I can’t stand nostalgia and a lot of articles about classic punk bands inevitably mention how much better music was “back-in-the-day.” But when I heard the Descendents, one of the most exciting and influential bands from the early pop-punk scene, were in town for a stop on the Hypercaffium Spazzinate tour, I brewed a pot of coffee (coffee being an ongoing Descendents theme) and got my ass down to M Telus for the show.
The first thing I noticed when I arrived was the feeding frenzy going down at the merchandise table. This shouldn’t be a surprise; Descendents t-shirts with the iconic stick figure drawing of Milo, a representation of lead singer Milo Aukerman, are a staple of any real punk rocker’s wardrobe. Special tees were even printed for the Quebec leg of the tour featuring Milo’s image on a plate of poutine.
When the headliners hit the stage, Aukerman began by greeting the Montreal crowd with a “Bonjour” and said he likes Canada because “[the] leader isn’t a Nazi sympathizer.” The band then headed right into “Everything Sux.” Politics haven’t always been a part of Descendents’ work, but the American political scene is weird at the moment. In April they released “Who We Are,” a song that laments this state of affairs, and Aukerman has said this was one of the first political songs he had ever written.
The band soon got into the lighthearted and humorous punk anthems they’ve been famous for since the 80s. Incredibly, they haven’t performed in Montreal in twenty years, and Aukerman mentioned that they used to play next door at Foufounes Electriques. Thursday’s set was a Descendents history lesson drawing on songs from their extensive catalogue. A personal favourite was the melodic “Clean Sheets,” an emotional, heart felt song from the 1987 album All about breaking up. Aukerman, with his foot perched on an amp, pointed to the crowd while belting out the chorus, “Those sheets are dirty, and so are you!”
Other crowd pleasers included the uber-catchy hit “Silly Girl,” and the ultimate teen angst anthem, “I Don’t Want to Grow Up.” That track was the band at their most juvenile and fun, and hearing a man in his fifties on stage imitating a whiny baby was a classic Descendents moment. Another infectious love song that’s been stuck in my head since the show is “Get the Time,” from the 1986 album Enjoy.
But, of course, the band is also famous for short bursts of raw, incendiary energy lasting less than a minute. For these songs, founding drummer Bill Stevenson, who also played in Black Flag, held the beat like a pro while Aukerman alternated between talking and shouting into the mic. “Weinerschnitzel,” a tune made famous by Christian Slater in the movie Pump Up the Volume, lasted only about ten-seconds. These short tunes felt like part song, part comedy routine, and before “Coffee Mug,” Aukerman jokingly asked if anyone wanted coffee. Judging by the unchained energy in the moshpit, and constant crowd surfing, the crowd didn’t need caffeine on this night.
Berri Txarrak got the evening started, playing fast and melodic punk tunes in their native Basque language. The band, whose name translates as “bad news,” have been around since 1994 and are a pretty big deal in Spain having toured extensively and releasing seven albums. American band The Menzingers played next while the venue filled to capacity. Their sound is more indie rock than the classic punk sound of the Descendents, but the crowd seemed really excited by their performance. Their latest album After the Party, released in February on Epitaph, is about getting old but still having fun and partying. We all get there, and I’m sure the Descendents, who have been at it for almost forty years, could tell them a thing or two about growing up.
Written by Rob Coles
Photography by Danny Donovan
*edited by Danielle Kenedy