The Descendents have had a career like no other punk band

By Matt Gilligan

August 6, 2017

The Descendents have had a career like no other punk band, mostly because of the four lengthy hiatuses the group has taken over the course of nearly 40 years. Formed in the late 1970s in Manhattan Beach, California, the band played around L.A. sporadically for a couple years before finding their voice, literally and figuratively, in lead singer Milo Aukerman. The band released their classic debut album Milo Goes To College in 1982 before Milo did indeed go to college, prompting their first extended break. While Aukerman went to school, Descendents drummer Bill Stevenson joined up with the legendary Black Flag. 

The Descendents reunited in 1985, and since then it’s been on and off, mostly due to Aukerman’s academic and professional career (he holds a Ph.D. in biochemistry). They’ve released six albums since their original reunion in ’85, and the latest, Hypercaffium Spazzinate, came out in 2016. Aukerman was laid off from his job at DuPont as a plant researcher last year, and the 54-year-old vocalist decided he wanted to pursue music full-time again. The Descendents brought their show to the Fillmore on Friday night, with local band Late Bloomer and The Bronx also on the bill. 

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Charlotte’s Late Bloomer plays a unique brand of 1990s-inspired indie rock, influenced by North Carolina’s Superchunk and Archers of Loaf, among others. The crowd was into their set, and it was nice to see locals open for a legendary band that had never played Charlotte before.

The Bronx was up next. The band, actually from Los Angeles despite their moniker, put on a high-energy show. I personally prefer their side project, Mariachi El Bronx, but the crowd ate up their performance. About 15 minutes into their set, lead singer Matt Caughthran jumped into the crowd and proceeded to perform the rest of the set from the floor among the slam dancers.

The Bronx in Charlotte

The Bronx in Charlotte

The first time I saw the Descendents was in September 1996 at a small coffee house in Kansas City. That show ultimately shut the place down forever because they packed in too many people, and the Fire Marshal and police were waiting outside once it was over. The other time was later that same year in a proper club in Lawrence, Kansas.

Descendents in Charlotte, NC Part II

Descendents in Charlotte, NC Part II

I wasn’t sure what to expect after over 20 years. At first sight you would think the men in the Descendents are just four unassuming middle-aged guys, gray haired and balding. Which they are, but they’re also one of the best American punk rock bands of all time, and they proved it. They didn’t have a fancy backdrop onstage behind them, or any frills whatsoever. Just four guys in t-shirts, drums, bass, a guitar, and a microphone. The way they played, it was easy to imagine them performing the same songs in a small, sweaty club in LA in 1982.

Descendents in Charlotte, NC

Descendents in Charlotte, NC

Milo Aukerman, Bill Stevenson, Karl Alvarez, and Stephen Egerton furiously ripped through classics like “Hope,” “Myage,” “Suburban Home,” and “Bikeage.” The folks in attendance ran the gamut from people in their 50s to young kids most likely going to their first show with their parents. The crowd near the stage knew the words to many of the bands’ older songs, and The Descendents filled in the rest of their set with a selection of tunes from the three albums they’ve released over the last 21 years. I don’t know if any show by any band will ever live up to that 1996 Kansas City gig, but it was great to see a band still so inspired and clearly excited about what they’re doing all these years later. Hopefully we’ll see Milo and the boys back in the Queen City again sooner than later.

Check out the remaining dates for the 2017 Descendents tour.

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