How many live albums would you listen to over the original recordings? I know for me, there are very few -- perhaps Social Distortion’s Live at the Roxy, the Ramones’ It’s Alive, or maybe 7 Seconds’ Scream Real Loud. I’m sure many people have differing opinions on the “best live album,” but the list for “best live albums” is definitely a short one.
Most bands don’t know how to make a live album. These releases often consist largely of “greatest hits”-type set lists with the songs performed as closely as possible to the original recording -- maybe a little faster, or maybe with a little stage banter between songs to “mix things up,” but that’s about it. Hell, nowadays most bands are completely skipping over the “live album” and going straight to DVD! While it’s nice to be able to see these bands perform (definitely very nice!) in this reviewer’s honest opinion, it’s just not the same as a well-executed live album.
Which brings us to the Descendents’ live release, aptly titled Liveage! Not only is this my favorite live album ever, but this is my favorite Descendents record.
Now, before you hit the comment button and type “no way man milo goes to college/everything sux/social-d’s liveattheroxy/etc r0x over liveage!!,” hear me out.
Listening to this album, it doesn’t feel like you’re sitting in your chair listening to an album. Recorded in 1987, it feels like you’re inside a club, witnessing a brutal old-school punk show performed by the Descendents. The production is top notch, without sounding fake. The balance between the band and the sounds of the crowd is just right. The set list feels like an actual live set, rather than just a collection of greatest hits. Now, don’t get me wrong -- the favorites are all there. Appearances by catalog favorites “Myage,” “Silly Girl,” “Suburban Home,” “Hope,” “My Dad Sucks,” “Coolidge” and many others solidify the record, but what makes this album so great is the appearance of songs you really wouldn’t expect to hear played live.
While it’s true that “All-O-Gistics” has since become a live staple, it’s great fun to hear Milo rambling on about the commandments and the entire place chanting “QUA QUA, QUA QUA!” “Wendy” makes a surprise appearance on the set, and “Kids on Coffee” blisters by in forty seconds. A number of tracks from each Descendents album take their rightful place alongside each other on the album, seamlessly blending into each other nicely.
Getting through these 20 songs in just under 40 minutes, the Descendents are tight as hell, as always. Every time I listen to this album, I’m further impressed with the technical abilities of the members of the Descendents. The energy displayed by these guys is unmatched, as well. As expected, Milo’s trademark voice sounds great live -- his rough, harsh vocals are great on many songs, while his more melodic singing is just as good. The lineup on this album is the same as on the band’s ALL record: Stephen Egerton on guitar, Karl Alvarez on bass, and Bill Stevenson on drums. Stephen’s guitar work is top notch all throughout the album -- just listen to his part in “Van.” He’s no Jimmy Page, but he can definitely hold his own. Karl performs the bass lines with excellent precision, though if you really want to hear them souped up, you should check out the band’s newer stuff. Bill’s drumming is predictably spectacular throughout, as always.
All in all, you couldn’t ask for more from a live album. The Descendents just show how it’s done, with excellent, entertaining performances of many of their best songs. They really raise the bar for live albums, putting forth an unparalleled mix of energy, passion, and power. Every time I listen to this album, I’m saddened by the fact that I’ll probably never get the chance to see my favorite band live at this point…but hey, as long as they keep releasing great albums every few years, I really can’t complain. Of course, to get the complete Descendents live experience, you’re going to want to pick up the spectacular Hallraker, which has songs ranging from lesser known tracks from their second release ("Global Probing" and ‘Hey, Hey’) to the metal-styled deep album tracks from ALL ("Cameage" and "Iceman"). You should also grab Live Plus One, which not only contains a great show by ALL, but also has an awesome set list spanning the entire Descendents catalog (up to Everything Sucks, that is).