Descendents/Fucked Up/Night Birds - Live in Philadelphia (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Descendents / Fucked Up / Night Birds

Live in Philadelphia (2016)

live show

Descendents frontman, Milo Aukerman, stood at the front of the stage with a grin befitting a kid 1/4 his age. He held the microphone close to his mouth and said, “This is for people who grab ‘em by the pussy!” The long running (and recently reunited) band then snapped into a punchy version of “Pervert.”

Across their massive 35 song set, the band proved over and over why they are able to get away with such shenanigans. While many current punk bands lean so far to the PC side that they become almost Maost propaganda police, and the while the reactionary bands devolve so far into smut and meanness that they exist solely to be annoying, the Descendents have been able to keep their schoolboy humor in tact while supporting it with intelligence and whimsy.

As with any band of the Descendents caliber, there was a fear that the band would be over polished or, in the alternate, slow and worn out. Neither was the case. Despite the fact the Philly’s Electric Factory is a large venue, the band was able to keep their edge in tact. They mixed classic cuts like “Suburban Home” along side a fair amount of new jams like “Shameless Halo.” The fact that the band was able to ping pong around the catalog without a loss of energy or break in atmosphere just shows how tight the newest songs are.

Milo, for his part, sounded as sharp and as youthful as ever. His delivery was perfectly imperfect, as is befitting for a foundation pop-punk band, drifting between Black Flag style shouting and more modern harmonization heard by Fat Wreck bands. Milo did paused a few times to take some shots at a certain orange presidential candidate and comment on the environment… he also drifted into some yuk-yuk style ad libs here and there. But, for the most part, the band, who had been away for about 12 years, came to prove why they maintain their station.

Drummer Bill Stevenson, recently off his FLAG duties, brought his hard, caveman smash to the show and it really may be this ingredient which kept the band so vibrant. So many pop-punk bands fall into bland, gentle mediocrity. But, Stevens’ harder, more hardcore style propulsion kept the band clipping along, forcing the tunes to work. Guitarist Stephen Egerton (also recently coming off his FLAG duties) and bassist Karl Alvarez walked that fine line between hardcore and pop-punk, and like Milo, were perfectly imperfect. Sometime they would briefly wander away from the song or really smash it up at the end of a song. This unpredictability, and ever present threat of claws, is why the Descedents, who have a lot of “I wanna go out with you” and funny songs, really are a punk band under the best possible definition.

It’s not easy to come off of a 12 year “Vacation.” But, the Descendents not only showed that they still have the goods, but rather, since they’re aware of what it’s like when the band isn’t around, they came to prove why they hold their rarefind title. It’s well deserved.

Before the Descendents, Fucked Up took the stage in classic Fucked Up style- with frontman Damian Abraham immediately jumping into the crowd. While he used to be a sort of threatening menace, bleeding all over the stage, now he’s more like a man-size toddler, rushing out to say “hi” to anyone and everyone.

Last time Fucked Up played Philadelphia was one of their more daring sets (and probably my favorite show by them that I’ve seen), wherein they played large portions of their avant-garde and epic Zodiac songs. By contrast, facing the huge Descendents crowd, the band stuck closely towards a greatest hits style set, focusing on the second half of their catalogue, with a few early numbers, like “Baiting the Public” and “Police” slipped in.

Recently, much ado has been made about the perceived divide between Abraham and the rest of the band. Other commentators have suggested that the band and Abraham were separate from each other nearly the whole set due to differences in musical direction and performance style. I am not privy to the band’s mindset, but I did not see this divide. Rather, I saw a sort of two ring circus, with each element working off the other. While Abraham did his usual Abraham-isms- jumping into the crowd, wrapping the mic chord around himself- the band focused on their own works, making their sound as huge and as flowing as possible. While many punk bands make their music as jagged and as nasty as possible, Fucked Up seems to want to make their music as epic and as ocean-like as possible.

As is their five year cycle, Fucked Up seems to again be in a state of flux, figuring out how to morph into their new incarnation. Their current style exhibits a sort of solemn, cold distinction. It will be quite interesting to see if the band’s next era takes this and goes huge, pushes it into tiny space, or something else entirely. If you try to guess Fucked Up’s next step, you will probably be wrong. Hell, not too long ago, out of the blue, they released a surprise, instrumental soundtrack. Daring and unusual beats safe and consistent every time.

The show opened with Night Birds, and judging from my own informal survey, it seemed the Philly crowd was almost as excited to see punk’s newest golden boys as they were the returning legends. There’s no question if Night Birds can swing- they’ve been proving it time and time again since the release of their fantastic last album Mutiny on Muscle Beach. But, busting up the small clubs is one thing. Rocking the big house is something else entirely.

Well, I’ll cut to the chase. Night Birds can, and did, rock the big house. Night Birds draw their power from frantic, sharp guitar lines and it can be hard to translate that from a crowd of 300 people to 3,000. Seemingly aware of this, the band kept their wild energy and rapid-fire songs. (Some bands, when facing a large crowd, will choose to slow down in an effort to draw out the melody- it usually doesn’t work.)

However, the Birds also seemed to simplify their wild attack and made their songs thicker and less spidery. The effect was that the band streamlined their attack into a lashing, solid strike across their half hour set that zapped the audience without getting diluted by the acoustics of a warehouse.

Similarly, frontman Brian Gorsegner came to do damage to larger crowd. Gorsegner is an interesting guy. If you talk to him, he usually seems affable enough. But, there always seems to be something slightly bugging him, like maybe he has lice under his collar that won’t go away, or maybe growing toothache in his back tooth. You can see this by his clothes, which are normal enough, seem to be in a perpetual state adjustment, as if he buttoned and unbuttoned them and rebuttoned them in a hurry. His hair, always seems to have the appearance of having been combed, but that work seems to have undone by recent calamity or stress.

Well, luckily for us, he took it out on the stage. Animated and spastic, Goregner hissed, and spat, and yelled, and leaned forward and leaned back all over the stage and just generally went wild. Night Birds are not a polished band and that;s why they are so great. Like few bands before them, they can bring punk’s core furor to a larger venue and put that upfront.

Maybe the reason Night Birds excelled at the 3,000 person show was because they made it felt like a 300, or even 30, person show. To paraphrase Ben Folds, “I used to try to make a bar feel like a stadium, but now I try to make a stadium feel like a bar.” Night Birds achieved this, except where Folds meant he wanted to focus on quietness and subtlety, Night Birds focused on doing damage.