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Punk rock love

Descendents and ALL return to Tulsa for a two-night punk reunion

The Descendents, left to right: Stephen Egerton, Milo Auckerman, Bill Stevenson, and Tony Lombardo

Kevin Scanlon

“Punk rock love is her drawing on you. Her sleeping on your back. Her being mad at you for being such a jerk. Her thinking it’s cool that you stink and your hair stands up by itself. Her having weird roommates who worship eggs. You waiting in the doorway for hours hoping she might pass by. Even in the snow. Her singing along with Descendents records over the air on her late night radio show.”
—Aaron Cometbus (“Punk Rock Love Is…”)

“Punk rock love,” poeticized above by punk zine trailblazer Aaron Cometbus, is a major force in Descendents songs like “Good Good Things,” where singer Milo Auckerman breaks through the hardcore bluster of his peers with tender lines like “Did I ever tell you how much I love to love you?”

Punk rock love is spontaneous, bold, and insubordinate. It’s the central nervous system of a world where, even if life had an operator’s manual, it’d be chucked out the window of a moving van, pissed on, or burned just for kicks.

The Descendents spawned in 1977, a year that saw the first steps of more legendary punk bands than you could hock a loogie at. The band was a yin-yang of spazz and personal lyrics inset in a feral buzz of wound-up powerpop punk. They were a missing link between the steely toughness of hardcore punk and dopamine-soaked singles of The Cars, The Knack, and The Raspberries.

A punker born around last time Descendents played Tulsa in 1996 would now be old enough to buy a beer when the band makes its return on Nov. 17 at Cain’s Ballroom. Measured against the length of a typical Descendents song, 22 years is an unfathomably large span of time—an eternity—but even still, something enduring in the band’s music barrels onwards, picking up new fans and keeping the older ones coming back.

Twenty-two years ago, Josh Fisher was a senior at Bartlesville High School, sporting buzzed leopard print hair and known by the aliases “Fish” and “Tex.” Back then, Josh identified with the Descendents, who were, as he put it, “nerdy dudes that strike out with girls.” They were also the one band all the punk rock girls in his circle loved just as much as he did.

“I totally threw a ton of Descendents songs on mixtapes for girls in high school,” he said. Today Fisher resides in the Twin Cities area. A history teacher, husband, and father, he’s coming back to Tulsa to reconnect with six other friends from California, Texas, Kansas, and Minnesota for this special punk rock reunion.

To Tulsa native Carla-Rose Branch, Descendents evoke memories of “new relationship energy,” those blissful early stages of a budding romantic coupling. A fan since the ‘90s, when she was active in the punk scene, Descendents songs stood out to her because of how they conveyed the feeling of having a crush on someone.

“They’re romantic and silly and goofy,” she said. “I’m a hopeless romantic with a sense of humor, and I think that’s why I identify with it. I could dance around, or bob my head to it, or cruise around in my car with the windows down and feel this sense of … happiness.”

But it’s not just Descendents who will be making this weekend one for the punk rock record books. Their sister band ALL (formed by Descendents members Bill Stevenson, Karl Alvarez, and Stephen Egerton) will be bringing their own brand of throwback pop-punk to the IDL Ballroom the following evening on Nov. 18.

This will be ALL’s first-ever show at a Tulsa venue, and the Descendents’ show will be the final date of their U.S. tour. To celebrate, they’ve invited friends Ultimate Fakebook, Hagfish, and Radkey to open for Descendents at Cain’s. ALL will be supported by Scott Reynolds, The Last, Slorder, and Drag the River.

“The larger part of the people who are going to come for the IDL show are people who are traveling, to kind of make a weekend out of the whole thing,” said guitarist Egerton. “[They are] diehard Descendents/ALL fans, who are familiar with some of the offshoots.”

Egerton moved to Tulsa 15 years ago to raise his kids and be close to relatives. “I’m excited to finally get to play here where I live,” he said.

“I sit in the band now after 32 years of playing with them both as a fan and a member, and it’s very interesting to kind of see the crowd age range,” he continued. “One time I met a four-generations-deep family of people that were fans of the Descendents!”

Five years before he joined the band, at age 16, Egerton first heard the Descendents’ six-song “Fat” EP, which boasts an average song length of only 45 seconds. A rude, remorseless blast of adolescent fun with titles like “My Dad Sucks” and “I Like Food” delivered with singer Milo Aukerman’s grouchy, defiant shouts, it’s a flawless punk rock record. “I immediately loved them,” Egerton said.

That EP’s hardcore edge was a far cry from the Descendent’s debut single, 1979’s reverb-laden, low-budget surf rock anomaly “Ride the Wild”/“It’s a Hectic World.” The sound was inspired in large part by The Last, one of the bands coming to Tulsa to support ALL at the IDL show.

“The Last were probably the biggest single influence on the beginning of the Descendents,” Egerton said. “[They] were already playing when bands like Black Flag or Circle Jerks started up. They were a little bit older. They were the band that, when they were kids, the Descendents could go see practice.”

Almost 40 years after that first single, Egerton says Descendents keep gaining fans because the songs are “either borne of real experiences, or they’re silly. And sometimes both of those things happen at the same time, of course. I think people respond to the fact that the songs are real, and they’re very human.”

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