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