LIVE: Descendents / Abrasive Wheels @ O2 Forum Kentish Town, London

By Ashwin Bhandari

They’re the proud, and they may indeed be the few, but Descendents are far from being alone tonight. The godfathers of pop punk and hardcore capitalized on their nerdy aesthetic early on their career, which has proven to be globally influential. Last time they come to London in 2011, they had to make up for a show several months prior to that. At the April show, frontman Milo Aukerman blew out his voice after the first few songs, meaning they managed to complete their set with members from NOFX, Teenage Bottlerocket¬†and Dead To Me filling in. It made for an interesting form of punk rock karaoke, but it wasn’t what English fans had paid for. The main reason then for coming over that year was for Reading and Leeds Festival, where they, unfortunately, clashed with Muse and ended up playing to half empty tents.

Every other adventure back to our shores has been in the form of one-off festival exclusive appearances, such as Hevy in 2012 and last year’s Rebellion. UK Descendents fans were over the moon when it was announced earlier this year that they were finally coming back to do a headline show, at a reasonable price. It might not be the most punk of venues to play a large O2 Academy, but at least it meant enthusiasts from all over Britain had a chance at attending.

Joining Descendents on their return, northern punk favorites¬†Abrasive Wheels are the main support for tonight’s nostalgia-fuelled¬†venture. Their lineup may have changed countless times over the span of their 41 years as a band, but their¬†solid musicianship has aged gracefully. Most attendees are fine with staying still and letting the power chord driven Leeds punks do their thing, until the very tail end of the set that is. The older punks seemingly at the front to get a good spot for Descendents suddenly start throwing each other around and starting circle pits for anthems from ‘When The Punks Go Marching In’. Frontman Shonna Rzonca even throws his microphone into the crowd for some rowdy chorus fun. The audience might have been somewhat lackluster in their reception compared to their timeless performances at Rebellion Festival, but Abrasive Wheels are still a nice traditional punk outfit that have stood the test of time.

As the Long Beach geeks arrive on stage to raucous applause, Aukerman briefly states in almost dad joke delivery; “So this Brexit deal, I heard that kinda sucks for you. Well that’s okay, because EVERYTHING, SUCKS,”. Bill Stevenson’s infamous drum roll bludgeons through the PA and Descendents kick off things in full swing. At this point as their fourth incarnation of the band, the setlist is more or less the same, cherry-picking the finest moments of their four decades on this earth but never fails to hype up the crowd. ¬†From the angsty cuts, they wrote as young adults such as ‘Hope’, the pop-punk sensibilities of ‘Rotting Out’ and the outright silliness of ‘I Wanna Be A Bear’, rest assured that pretty much all ground is nicely covered.

Given that the entire¬†set is compacted to 30 songs in just under an hour and a half, Descendents don’t rush things as blatantly as you would expect. The primal fury and of Stevenson’s drum fills are so on point that he even adds subtle, improvised fills to certain songs. It makes you forget that he also wrote a lot of the band’s hits from scratch, as he no longer sings and plays along like in the good old days, but at live shows, he is an unstoppable drumming god that takes no prisoners. Karl Alvarez’s meaty bass hooks at the beginning of “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up’ and ‘Myage’ are enough to keep everyone sharp and stimulated.

A selection of cuts from 2016’s Hypercaffium Spazzinate are spliced in between classics, the highlights being ‘Without Love’ and ‘On Paper’ for Aukerman and guitarist Stephen Egerton’s punchy harmonies. The crowd participation is in full swing, with larger than life choruses that give enough affection for newer material just as much as their older hits. It’s a heartfelt feeling to have¬†two thousand people in a room sing the same self-deprecating, quirky lyrics that you grew up learning in your bedroom because at a Descendents show, no one “has” to fit in anywhere. Even when certain songs are slightly rough around the edges, the reception clearly makes up for any niggles along the way.

Unlike with their festival appearances, we’re treated¬†to two¬†encores this evening, as Aukerman gets down and personal with the crowd at the very front for ‘Thank You’. Life imitates art at its finest when we get to hear them play songs that with age, now take new meaning on whom they’ve become such as ‘When I Get Old’ and ‘Suburban Home’. The show ends on ‘Spineless and Scarlet Red’ with a sea of crowd surfers getting in their very last fix of Descendents goodness. The band don’t look tired in the slightest, and could probably go on indefinitely if it weren’t for the strict Sunday curfew enforced at the venue, but it’s a clear victory for their first London show in a while. As the band has discussed in their documentary, ‘Filmage’, they genuinely feel like they’re doing better now than they’ve ever done in their entire careers. Nights like this, without a fraction of a doubt, live up to that statement.

ASHWIN BHANDARI