Descendents w/ Night Birds, Berri Txarrak – The Strand, Providence RI – September 10, 2017
While I love my local big venue, I don’t often go. But Providence’s legendary venue Lupo’s, here in its third incarnation and location, had finally been laid to rest. The Strand had finally taken full control of this building. The Strand has an equally formidable history of rock and roll in Rhode Island. Few bands have lured me to this venue. But bands like Flogging Molly, Rilo Kiley, Clutch, Hatebreed, and Street Dogs have had me brave the hassle of large crowds and absence of punk intimacy. Certainly knowing I’ll never see Descendents in a small pub was motivation. Add Night Birds’ manic frenzy and I’m sold. I have been pointing fingers to their antagonistic punk since their first EP. It doesn’t hurt that most of my friends had bought tickets in March or June. Providence had been buzzing for months. Add people down from Boston, old and young, and the swarm of anticipation was palpable. We were all here to see one of the greatest punk bands ever. And $5 beers across the board. Hello, Heavy Seas’ Loose Cannon IPA.
The renovations of the building are huge improvements. The best is the removal of a large, obstructive bar island and sound board in the middle- Some other decorative and new furniture helped. They have plush chairs on the sides and rear for those who just want to sit. The magic allure of the old theater is comforting.
One thing I forgot to factor, bigger venues like this, opposed to bars, is that they actually start on time. I still caught most of Berri Txarrak. They were tight. I had never heard this Spanish band; who have been around since 1994. They played some fast tracks despite being a more indie rock band. Their energy was admirable. Kids were singing and dancing way up front. They provided a solid soundtrack as I spent most of my time seeing many familiar faces. Even the grumpy older guys who are fixed to their couches most nights were tantalized by the legendary Descendents. The vibe was salient; simmering excitement for Milo and the boys. Berri Txarrak sent a buzz through the crowd, as a good opener should.
Night Birds came – again, precisely on time. The New Jersey band spits fire immediately. Picking tracks from their entire catalog, which spans from 2010 to now, their unsettled demeanor zooms through the crowd. They began with an instrumental; introducing newcomers to their blend of horror punk surf and hardcore. It was funny. I saw a multitude of Descendents merch being bought and quickly adorned. While not many were buying Night Birds’ shirts; the crowd was buying Night Birds’ vinyl. Night Birds catalog is stunning; frantic and dark. The vocalist owned the stage as he pantomimed actions reflecting haunting fear and tension across the platform. Despite the stage’s size, Night Birds had control of the crowd, sharing the mic and pounding songs back to back to back. They played ten songs, all continuous – no stopping – before their first pause. They had limited time in this venue and they were exploiting each second. Cruising through with only two rests for 35 minutes, they hit favorites like “Oblivious”, “I’m Wired”, “Life is not Amusement for Me”, “Sex Tape”, and more. It was cool to hear new ones from Mutiny on Muscle Beach mixed with ones I had seen in claustrophobic pubs without any loss of impact. I’m not referencing older days to tout my having seen them. I’m relaying Night Birds’ ability to perform on a large stage and capture attention just as easily. They are not slowing down. Crowd was jumping to the debut LP’s title track, “The Other Side of Darkness”. Their entire set was paranoid, frenetic, and sweaty. A Suicide Commandos cover was their penultimate song before they closed with “Maimed for the Masses”, title track from that 2013 7” which is an ode to wrestler, Mick Foley.
I found it amusing that relating to Night Birds and Descendents means singing along to anthems of isolation and anxiety with an enormous crowd. There were hundreds (a thousand?) of fans in unity regarding their pension for solitude.
Not long after, the efficiency of the venue yielded to the efficiency of Descendents short spastic rants. Bill Stevenson, the behemoth behind the drums, ravages with nimble metronome tactics that illustrate the work of a more diminutive figure. Karl Alvarez and Stephen Egerton speed through chords with taunting enthusiasm. No rock star bullshit; just dedicated ardor. Milo is now bigger than the scrawny reject of 1982’s, Milo Goes to College. But his snarky snarl still is infectious and amusing. You know the songs, you know the infectious buzz. There is no way no to love this band. They may be champions of “pop” punk – whatever that jumbo shrimp oxymoron means. But to me, Descendents will always be dark and scathing. Take a line from “She Loves me”: “She loves me but I’m sure that she can’t help / How I’m this close to cashing in – How I chase dreams that don’t exist / How I hate girls and I hate my life. The pain that rips me, tears me, ruins me.” The pleading for isolation on “Catalina”. The festering spite on “Hope”. And of course, the recounting of one day’s disgruntling milieu, “Everything Sucks”. While this was there comeback album in 1996, it has quickly became their anthem. They correctly kicked the show off with this ode to black clouds with no silver linings. Ever the curmudgeons, Descendents bask in the band’s nod to pessimism as it unites each smiling fan singing along to every cynical phrase.
Given I was drinking, but the set list was: Everything Sucks, Hope, Rotting Out, Statue Of Liberty, On Paper, Pervert, Those Sheets, I Wanna Be A Bear, Full Circle, I’m Not A Punk, Silly Girl, Myage, Coffee Mug, Victim of Me, (a new one), I Don’t Want to Grow Up, When I Get Old, Suburban Home, Thank You, Descendents. Break – Catalina, Hope, Nothing With You. Break before Happy Birthday Bill Stevenson, I’m the One, Bikeage.
The Happy Birthday to Bill was fun and felt like a 900 person party. Again the band did not take pauses or indulge in ego patting banter. They flew through all of these classics. Milo had the mic sporadically in the crowd. It was moot as the entire building was singing each word. Milo owned the staged, running to both sides alternately, sure to include everyone who came up front.
I’ll go back to singing these songs alone in my house until a few more years when they come back for a non-festival date. I’ll take the crowd, but not 20 other bands and hot sun. This was an amazing show, rejuvenating. A sweet way to celebrate the 35 year anniversary of Milo Goes to College, the diamond of the collection. 35 years! Thanks to the factors: the slickness of a new venue, a bold and full sound, a big crowd yet plenty of space, affordable drinks and a great vibe provided by one of the best, most impactful hardcore-punk bands in American History.