Descendents at Riot Fest 2012 | Photos and live music review
When I was growing up and getting into punk, the Descendents were a band I wanted to love, but found myself frustrated by what I saw as a surplus of silliness. They had everything: blistering drums, ripping basslines, catchy guitars and a singer who could actually sing. But why did they have to sing about farting all the time? Something about me wanted punk to be grave and menacing above all else. Funny that now, at twenty-two, I have more of an appreciation for the eternally adolescent glory of the Descendents than I did at fifteen. Maybe it’s because these lyrics are a lot funnier coming from a near-fifty-year-old scientist than a young smartass. But I think it runs deeper: the Descendents, above all else, appear to be best friends with one another. This chemistry, thirty years after the original lineup’s inception, makes the band a singularly endearing entity in punk today, and the undisputed highlight of Riot Fest thus far.
The Descendents are one of only a couple bands to be playing Riot Fest Chicago for the second year in a row, and for good reason. They are perhaps the only flagship punk band to have retained their level of energy and integrity for this long, all while continuing to garner new fans and generate new material. Even their newer albums aren’t half-bad. Perhaps it was the choice of coffee over other drugs, but the quartet’s longevity should be chalked up to the trinity: great songs, great musicians, and great chemistry. Foremost of these, if only by a hair, is the songwriting. When Milo Aukerman jumped down from the stage to sing “I’m Not a Loser” with the crowd, I felt myself desperate to echo the sentiment. Everyone around me, packed tighter than the elevator ride from hell, seemed to feel the same deep connection with that goofy, unfortunately homophobic little song. Something about Aukerman’s self-deprecating wit is universal. We all feel lonely and marginalized sometimes. But we can’t all channel that into ninety second masterpieces that hold up for three decades.
The set wasn’t without a hitch or two. Well, maybe just one hitch. I’m thinking mainly of “All-O-Gistics,” a prime example of the group’s sense of humor going way over my younger self’s head, during which four children from the VIP crowd were ushered out to read the band’s list of goofy commandments from a tablet. While one girl was eager to play along, a couple of younger boys looked more ready to soil themselves from confusion than to entertain 30,000 punks. It was sort of cute, mostly weird, and a great relief when that three-minute inside joke was finally over. Otherwise, the set was a masterpiece. Bill Stevenson is an effortless Thor of percussion. Karl Alvarez is a laser-focused Zen master of the bass guitar. Stephen Egerton is endearingly giddy on guitar, and Aukerman belted while clutching his short pant leg until his voice was hoarse. As the band left the stage, cries for “one more song” evolved into an honest-to-god chant of “Fuck Rise Against,” protesting the night’s headliner in favor of an encore. I may have joined in.