For as long as I can remember, the name Golden Voice has been pretty synonymous with great punk and metal shows. I believe my first ever punk show (GBH/The Accused) was a Golden Voice sponsored tour, so when I showed up at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium on Sunday night I was proud to be a part of their 30th Anniversary celebration. After about 25 years of fandom, this was to be my first time seeing the almighty Descendents perform live and I was extremely fired up. The rest of the lineup was not too shabby either as The Vandals and The Dickies were also on the bill, so I was gearing up for a good ol’ fashioned SoCal punk show. Little did I know that a huge surprise performer would join the lineup and make this THE show of the year for me, punk or metal, but i’ll get to that in a bit….
For as much punk and hardcore as I’ve listened to since I was a wee lass, I never really got into The Dickies. Not that I had anything in particular against them mind you, it’s just that when I got into hardcore punk, I had bypassed a lot of the first generation punk bands that had directly preceded the very bands I was listening to. Of course I’d heard of The Dickies a long, long time ago, I just never bothered to really check them out. Sunday was my first experience with them, and considering how highly revered the LA punk scene is in the annals of punk rock history, I was not surprised one bit that they were really, really good.
Having the distinction of being one of the very first punk bands to emerge from the LA scene, it was pretty obvious right away that they had influenced a lot of SoCal punk rock bands as their sound was very familiar sounding yet all their own at the same time. Being one week away from Christmas, they opened up with a punk rock version of traditional Xmas carol Silent Night which got the crowd into a festive mood. Lead singer Leonard Graves Phillips has a distinct higher pitched delivery than your typical screaming hardcore singer and sounded great. With a passionate, energetic performance he kept the crowd entertained with his witty banter and array of puppet props. Founder and lead guitarist Stan Lee kept the punk rock riffs rolling as the band launched through a slew of bouncy, up-tempo, melodic punk rock. Although I didn’t really know their songs, having a dog puppet, a blow-up doll and a gorilla mask helped bring a little extra fun to their performance. One highlight included a guest appearance by East Bay Ray of the Dead Kennedys on guitar for their cover version of Black Sabbath‘s Paranoid. But the best part of their set was the use of a giant penis puppet which helped Phillips launch into the brief chorus from the Who‘s See Me, Feel Me that was pretty damn hilarious. They closed out a great set with the only Dickies song I’d ever heard, Gigantor, and although time may have passed them by, they showed why they’re still highly revered and still able to deliver the goods.
Next came one of the most infamous punk bands to emerge from the vaunted Huntington Beach punk scene, The Vandals. Their Peace Thru Vandalism record is still regarded as one of the best, a true punk rock classic. But The Vandals were not only talented, they stood out because of their humor. Their quirky lyrics were different from the typical angry social/political issues and they basically paved the way for other less serious punk bands of that ilk like NOFX and the Offspring etc…. But make no mistake, their chops kept them a force to be reckoned with. I can distinctly remember the first time I became aware of them while watching Penelope Spheeris‘ Suburbia. Their performance of Pat Brown got me instantly hooked to their unique blend of ferocious energy and humor.
They opened up with classic anthem Urban Struggle which got everyone chanting along with the infamous opening line “I WANT TO BE A COWBOY“. The band were extremely sharp and seriously entertaining as they hit all the classics I wanted to hear and more. Airtight versions of Wanna Be Manor, Pat Brown and Lady Killer were right on and my favorite song Anarchy Burger was a personal highlight. At the end of their set guitarist Warren Fitzgerald donned vocal duties as he sang a ‘heartwrenching‘ song called I Have a Date which had the crowd rolling in the aisles. Sadly, over the years there’s been a lot of fighting over royalties owed original members “Stevo” Jensen and Jan Ackermann, and although a lot of that has smeared The Vandals legacy a bit, bassist Joe Escalante and singer Dave Quackenbush have kept this HB institution going strong and tonight they really showed why they’ve been so revered for so long, combining the chops of a tight veteran crew with the humor that keeps smiles on the faces and keeps the crowds coming back for more.
Throughout the night there were whispers all around saying the infamous Black Flag would be making a surprise appearance at this very show. Needless to say, as the whispers got louder, I was beside myself with excitement. I had no idea what lineup would be performing, but in all honesty I didn’t care. I just wanted a glimpse of the punk legends performing in some capacity. My friend and I took our places up close to the stage to get a front row view and when Black Flag came out, the place erupted! It would not be the more regarded Flag singer, Henry Rollins, but the first, original era Flag singer, the immortal Keith Morris, at the mic.
The first obvious omission was the absence of band founder Greg Ginn. To some, that might be considered total blasphemy, and to a certain extent I can agree. Obviously that’s a huge omission, I mean there’s no denying he wrote the classic riffs and I get that, but the bottom line is he wasn’t Jimmy Page or Eddie Van Halen, he was a punk rock guitarist with a lot of moving parts around him, and for me, Black Flag were the essence of hardcore punk rock. What matters is the passion and rage of the music. The beauty of punk is that it’s less about the individual and more about the sum of parts, and with the incestuous nature of a lot of these old punk bands, it just made sense to see Stephen Egerton filling in Greg‘s place. Stephen is legendary in his own right, and the second he started cranking out the raw, crunchy strains of Nervous Breakdown and the crowd started going apeshit, I had absolutely no problems at all. In this instance you could say I’ve got no values…, and no, I wouldn’t care.
You could tell that the band had only a few hours to rehearse songs they hadn’t performed together for decades, but it really didn’t matter, the energy and passion were on overload and the crowd was going berserk over every single second of every single song. I know Keith Morris has had some practice getting back into shape playing with his new band Off! but he still looked and sounded fantastic and the energy of the crowd really had him amped. Chuck Dukowski was a little shaky but it was good to see him keeping pace with Bill Stevenson destroying the kit behind him. Stephen Egerton had the perfect HB tone and just cranked out each classic riff with a strength and passion worthy of this royal reunion. The band did not let up for a second launching right into Fix Me and I’ve Had It and ending with a blistering version of Wasted. After the final notes, the band thanked everyone and walked off the stage. Immediately the chants of “one more song” rang out as the desperate crowd were begging them to perform something, anything. But the magic was over as quickly as it started, kind of like the whole hardcore scene, one moment it was there in all it’s brilliant glory and then in a matter of minutes it was all over. A super appreciative Keith Morris came back out to actually apologize to the crowd for not playing more, but that they literally had only hours to rehearse even those four songs and had to call it a night. Like I said before, it really didn’t matter how short the set, whether it was tight or not, this moment was all about the spontaneity, like the whole hardcore scene itself, and for those of us lucky to witness even a fleeting glimpse of the scene’s biggest legends performing one more time, it was one of the best moments I’ve ever experienced, absolutely amazing….
As much as I would’ve loved to see a full set from Black Flag, in a way it was fitting that they only played a handful of songs as I would’ve hated to see them upstage the main reason I was here in the first place, the mighty Descendents. Of course, in my opinion, the Descendents do not take a back seat to anyone in hardcore, even Black Flag, and I don’t think it would’ve mattered anyways because the Descendents owned the night with a brilliant performance of their own.
With the crowd already hyped up from Black Flag‘s special set, it didn’t take anything to get them going wild when the familiar riffs of Descendents dropped. The band were in top form, with Karl Alvarez and Bill Stevenson keeping the insane rhythm section tight as a drum while Stephen Egerton ripped off riff after brilliant riff of classics like Myage, Silly Girl, and My Dad Sucks. Playing upwards of 30 songs, the band pretty much hit every classic track you could want and even hit on the best of the newer songs like Everything Sux, Coffee Mug and I’m the One. The somewhat cheesy When I Get Old even seemed very appropriate, (especially for a 40 something like myself) and came off well, but it was the classics that had me in and out of the pit as if I was 16 again. Favorites like Suburban Home and I Don’t Wanna Grow Up were personal highlights of the night, in fact I think I hurt myself pretty good in the pit during all-time favorite, Catalina. I wasn’t even expecting short classic bursts like I Want to Be a Bear, I Like Food and Wienerschnitzel but was really happy to hear them too.
Milo Aukerman is one of my all time favorite punk rock singers, not only for his brilliant voice and delivery, but because he seems so genuine and down to earth. Never was this more apparent when he brought out his kids (as well as the other band members kids I assume) to deliver the All-O-Gistics, the bands’ commandments of rules to live by. It played off so much better with the kids delivering each commandment rather than Milo doing it himself, but it also showed that this guy has his priorities straight, and you gotta admire that. It was funny and touching all at once, and a welcome break among all the serious slamming going on. The Descendents are so good at bringing the emotion one second, hilarity the next, then bringing the serious punk rock fury all together seamlessly within the span of a single song proving just how dynamic and untouchable they really are. Even melodic punk anthems like Bikeage, Get the Time and I’m the One sounded heavy yet kept the emotion of the original songs in check and the rabid crowd couldn’t get enough.
The set ended with the ultimate Descendents anthem I’m Not a Loser that brought the house down, but that wouldn’t be the end of it. The bouncers were on overdrive tonight as people were surfing the crowd throughout the whole show and it continued on into the encore when the band came back with Sour Grapes. With my final last ounce of energy I dragged myself back into the pit for what seemed like the umpteenth classic Coolidge and then sat back as the band delivered their final song, an ultimate thank you to the appreciative crowd with Thank You. Every classic from every album was performed and honestly I couldn’t think of a better setlist if I tried, the band were everything I expected them to be and more. It was worth the 25 years I’ve waited to see the Descendents. It’s ironic that just as I turn in my best shows of the year list, I go to see the best show of the year. The Descendents are truly one of the best bands ever, punk, metal or anything. Just pure brilliance from every standpoint and I’m really lucky to have witnessed such a brilliant show from start to finish. Still can’t believe I got to end the year seeing the Descendents AND Black Flag. What a way to go out! Guess now the world can end in 2012 cause I know i’ll be satisfied….
Oh yeah, congrats to Golden Voice for 30 years of service, thank you, thank you, thank you for putting on such great shows over the years. Keep up the great work!
My Dad Sucks
I Want To Be A Bear
I’m the One
Nothing With You
I Like Food
When I Get Old
I Dont Wanna Grow Up
Get the Time
I’m A Loser
I’ve Had It
Nights In White Satin
I’m Okay You’re Okay
See My Way
Got It At The Store
Give It Back
Paranoid @With[East Bay Ray] Waterslide
Manny Moe & Jack
My Pop The Cop
You Drive Me Ape
If Stuart Could Talk