The Descendents play Friday during day one of Sound on Sound Fest at Sherwood Forest Faire in McDade. Photo contributed by Chad Wadsworth/Sound on Sound
By Andy O’Connor, special to the Statesman
Even if you had no idea who was playing Sound on Sound Fest just before walking onto the grounds, you could have guess Descendents were going to make an appearance.
Fest producers, led by booker Graham Williams, do love their punk nostalgia trips. Those bookings are kind of emblematic of Sound on Sound’s programming, which has relied heavily on Fun Fun Fun Fest favorites. Descendents may have a new record out, emboldened by frontman Milo Aukerman finally trading his lab coat for a full-time punk gig, but they’re far from the freshest programming. On the other hand, when you’re launching a new fest in an entirely different town, sticking to what works may not be the worst idea after all. This was true of not only Descendents’ performance, but also that of a younger group of punks, Fidlar.
Descendents played to a far smaller audience than they have in past festival appearances in Austin. That did not deter them, and they played as if they filled the entirety of Auditorium Shores. Aukerman opened the set wishing that, on Nov. 9, he doesn’t hope “Everything Sucks,” blasting into their immortal ode to common cynicism. Soon after, the clash of despair and perseverance in “Hope 13” carried even stronger in this climate. Their music predicted pop-punk with infectious melodies and carefree agression, and it still sounds as vital as when “Milo Goes to College” came out in 1982. We all hope our day will come, or at least just the possibility of more days to come. Stephen Egerton’s guitar went out in the middle of their set, but they kept playing like nothing happened. He even seemed to not notice he was cut out before the rest of his bandmates did. It became a representation of their determination, and the fest’s itself, treading on a new model when the outcome is unknown. If this was the first time someone had seen the Desecendents, and it was their first chance, they would have hailed it as the greatest technical error ever.
Fidlar came roaring on with a cover of Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage,” made into their own garage-y image. Watching their set was like the best night at Hotel Vegas transplanted to a forest, beers and bodies moving at similar quickness to catchy, punky rock ‘n’ roll. And those beers were “Cheap Beer,” their most popular song about excessive consumption at a price you can afford. What’s more American than that? Their youth and flippancy was the flip side to Descendents’ age and experience. Fidlar also share a knack for pop hooks driven by California’s equally sunny days and dark nights, where drugs and heartbreak become fuel for the next great single. It’s no wonder Austin kids eat them up.