Friday, May 26, 2023

It's no telephone booth: Descendents sell out Hermosa's Saint Rocke/ Review



By Ryan McDonald and Chris Berry

Part way through the Descendents’ set at Saint Rocke in Hermosa Beach on the evening of May 16, singer Milo Aukerman looked out at the sweaty, swaying crowd and announced that the next song was for the people in the audience from the South Bay, the ones who grew up seeing street after street filled with a certain kind of “home.”

The Descendents then promptly launched into “Thank You,” a song from 1996’s Everything Sucks about loving music that the rest of the world doesn’t quite seem to get. Aukerman, visibly confused, smiled for a beat and then caught up. It may have been a mistake, or perhaps a prank on Aukerman by the rest of the band, but when the band’s next song was “Suburban Home” —- the bridge of which insists “I don’t want no hippie pad/I want a house just like mom and dad” —- no one in the audience seemed to require any explanation.

The show marked the Descendents’ return to the South Bay, the decidedly suburban region of Southern California where the band began. The band had played some noteworthy local shows before, including a house show in Manhattan Beach in 1981 after a meet for the Mira Costa High School track team, of which Aukerman was a member. In the early '80s, they played short-lived local venues like The Fleetwood in Redondo Beach, The Barn in Torrance and Dancing Waters in San Pedro. There have been occasional other house shows, some surprise shows like at Frogs in Lawndale in 1996 and an appearance on the Strand in Hermosa with Pennywise in 1997, and most recently a secret show at the now-defunct Standing Room in 2016. But since the South Bay has never had a long-lasting music venue, let alone one that would host punk shows, Descendents rarely played locally.

As a result, the show at Saint Rocke was in high demand. It constituted the grand re-opening of Saint Rocke, a Hermosa Beach music venue that shuttered amid pandemic closures in March 2020 but that was purchased by new investors, one of whom is Pennywise frontman Jim Lindberg. A reworked floor plan boosted the venue’s capacity to about 300, but tickets still sold out in seconds. Those lucky enough to make it in were a mixture of punk rock elder statesmen, longtime fans and youngsters with enough energy for a night-long pit. 

The Descendents got support in the form of openers Plasma Canvas, whose guitarist is Descendents’ drummer Bill Stevenson’s son, and which performed a reworked version of Black Flag’s “Rise Above” with lyrics updated to promote trans rights. They were followed by Hermosa locals One Square Mile, led by local guitarist John McCree, formerly of Capital Vices Ltd. The group, whose name is a reference to Hermosa Beach’s narrow confines, has featured a rotating cast of South Bay punk notables over the years, and on this night, Todd King, formerly of Prop 13, was holding things down on the bass.


When the Descendents took the stage, they were greeted with cheering enthusiasm, which the band matched throughout their high-energy 75-minute set. The age range in the pit near the stage spanned decades, and crowd surfing was a near constant. Songs from 1982’s Milo Goes to College like “Myage” and “Hope” seemed to get the crowd moving the fastest, but the band drew from across its lengthy history in a way that complemented the evening’s come-full-circle vibe. Indeed, one of the closing songs was “Full Circle,” from 2016’s Hypercaffium Spazzinate, about Aukerman’s first exposure to punk, seeing X open for Devo at the Long Beach Arena on the last night of the 1970s.

The Descendents’ pioneering brand of melodic hardcore has made them one of the most influential punk bands of all time, and as a result many of their Southern California fans have only managed to see them at much larger venues like Hollywood Palladium or the Santa Monica Civic. This show was not only intimate, it was quintessentially local: a band playing in a place that inspired many of their songs, feeding off a crowd moved by the pride in knowing a band so good came from the place they call home. Rarely could a singer be so confident about sticking the mic in the face of a screaming fan. 


McDonald and Berry have a book in progress, I Want to Be Stereotyped: An Oral History of South Bay Punk, 1975-1991. Check them out on Instagram at @i_want_to_be_stereotyped_book



Saturday, May 20, 2023

Alec MacKaye discusses all things Hammered Hulls and more / Feature story


Alec MacKaye with Hammered Hulls in Seattle. (Cat Rose photo)

By Andy 

After running through soundcheck on a recent evening, Alec MacKaye was surrounded by motorcycle parts at the merch booth as he boxed the components up to bring home. He purchased the cycle ingredients at a shop in Perris, CA, on his band Hammered Hulls' West Coast mini tour and was grinning away at the thought of putting them to use on his cycles back in Washington, DC.

About three hours later, vocalist MacKaye and his bandmates  -- Mark Cisneros on guitar, Chris Wilson on drums and Brendan Canty on bass -- were enwreathed by attendees at the final gig of their five-city tour on May 7 at Seattle's Vera Project. Gig-goers were nearly silent at the outset as they gathered around the stage with eager looks in their eyes. Initially, MacKaye was part of that assemblage of Hulls supporters as the band cranked through the intro of the opening song. Soon, the singer walked through the crowd and climbed onto the stage to get into the action.

During the next hour, MacKaye tightly gripped onto a seemingly never-ending amount of microphone cord, poked the mic stand toward some overhead lights to punctuate part of a song, waded through the crowd to closely share the meaningful songs while placing a hand on some people's shoulders along the way, and falling to a knee on several occasions to firmly nail critical lyrical portions of the songs from the Hulls' stellar debut album "Careening" on Dischord Records.

It was theater-like in some ways, especially when MacKaye sat side stage during one stunning instrumental slice, and as he was clearly appreciating the players, he snapped on a small light and pointed it toward the trio. There were some moments when it felt eerily silent as MacKaye reached inward to harness and then unleash his earnest lyrical offerings as the band supplied the ideal soundscape. A second later, the band would hit a gloriously unhinged moment that jolted everyone on site. Each moment appeared vital to everyone on stage as if they didn't want things to fly by without making every instant fully count.

"I love sharing this music with you. I love being in this room with you," MacKaye told the crowd, adding that the Hulls put everything they had into their performance and they're grateful to be presenting their songs in a live setting.

Relaxing outside of the venue before the gig, as Kraken hockey fans strolled by to attend a playoff game in the nearby arena, MacKaye said the shows were well-received and the band was delivering the goods. 

"Always, that part comes easy," MacKaye said. "All the players, they're all masters of their instrument and various instruments." (Canty was filling in on bass for Mary Timony, who will soon return to the band.)

MacKaye said he feels like the luckiest guy in the world to be playing with the Hulls and pouring forth energy on stage each time out. 

"That is my point about all of this is that the spark is the same forever. It's never hard to get to. We're there," he said. "It's the most honest thing I've ever done. In all of this music, whether it's Untouchables, Faith, Ignition, Warmers, this -- that's the real thing. That is my offering to my life."

On the lyrics front, MacKaye explained that like during his time with the Warmers, he hears what resembles a word within the music and builds the text into a body of work. (Editor's note: a hammered whole, if you will.)

The chapbook that accompanies "Careening" is a nice touch and contains the lyrics to the 12 songs, beginning with "Boilermaker's Notch" and concluding with "Mission Statement."  

"These lyrics are really custom made for these songs. I didn't have a pile of words waiting for a song, not shoe-horning them into things," he said. "But then also the things I think about are different, the things I find interesting are different because I'm older. And also a lot of them are much more observational. There's things that I'm getting at, but I also leave a lot of it open. It took me a half a lifetime to figure this out, but if you leave it open a little bit for the person listening, they can relate and then you're having an actual conversation."

He added that when teens feel misunderstood and want to get their point across, they're often explicit in saying what they hate and love, and people still might not get the point. In MacKaye's case, when you're in punk bands armed with pen and paper, you can spray those feelings out in lyrical form. 

Over the years and into adulthood, he said, "I just let it be and I'm interested in how they interpret it, and all the lyrics are more like that. They're available to people and it's been super interesting."

During interviews, MacKaye said that he's been informed that some people's children are drawn to the song, "Rights and Reproductions," which contains the line, "We don't need permission now."

After chuckling, he noted: "It speaks to people. It's just a little bit of affirmation, a little bit of liberation, and it's easy to say and it's nice to be reminded sometimes."

MacKaye has two daughters of his own, aged 16 and 20, who have an affinity for copious types of tunes, including punk. One of the girls -- a massive Nirvana fan -- was blown away when she read that Kurt Cobain included a Faith song as one of his favorites on a top-10 mixtape. (Cobain also included the Faith/Void split in his top 50 albums.)  

"She saw that and she came to me and she said, 'Dad, why didn't you tell me this, how, what?' I was like, 'I didn't think you would care. I had no idea, I totally forgot about it,'" he said.

The girls have become involved in playing music, too. His older daughter took drum lessons from her aunt Amy Farina and played bass with a coterie of friends, and the younger MacKaye currently plays in a trio with Canty's daughter. 

When asked if there could be a Dischord release in the future for the girls, MacKaye responded with a smile: "They'll probably get their own label going. Take the baton and go a little further. Don't hang too long around the same watering hole -- just go on."

The MacKaye girls love to watch their dad perform with Hammered Hulls, and at one gig, they were the only ones dancing -- grooving right up front.  

"I really was pretty moved. It was pretty amazing and it's not something that I could have guessed when I was younger," MacKaye said.

MacKaye pokes at the lights. (Cat Rose photo)