Last Night: ALL at the House of Blues

I don't write show reviews that often, but when I do, Las Vegas seems to be involved (click here to figure out what the hell I mean).

Now that you're back, let me tell you about the ALL/Big Drill Car/My Name show Saturday at the House of Blues. I left for Vegas Thursday at 8 p.m. and got back into Long Beach around 6 p.m. Saturday. The trip was very last minute, one that was supposed to last until Sunday. But I'd had plans to check out ALL with my friend Ryan Slowgun (formerly of OC Weekly favs Sendaero) for a few weeks, and seeing how I totally forgot all about that wedding of his that he invited me to (sorry Ryan and Carole), I couldn't back out.

Part of the reason I don't do show reviews is because I'm lame and just get in a totally bad mood in large crowds where beers are too expensive, the sound sucks and I barely care about the bands I'm seeing. Although I've loved ALL for a long time (one of my old bands drove to Colorado to play with them once), my money was on me bailing after three songs.

I didn't. I actually enjoyed myself.

In case you didn't know, ALL is comprised of 3/4s of the final Descendents lineup (drummer Bill Stevenson, bassist Karl Alvarez and guitarist Stephen Egerton). Once Milo left for college the second time, the trio recruited Down by Law/Dag Nasty singer Dave Smalley, but he soon bailed, opening the door for Scott Reynolds (who later also bailed and was replaced by Chad Price). This show featured Reynolds on vocals, the first time this foursome has played Southern California in longer than anyone can remember.

I should review ALL's set in a somewhat chronological order, but the best part of the evening came at the beginning of the encore, so I'll start there. The band left the stage and came back, this time with a different bass player. Stevenson took the mic and said, "This is Tony Lombardo," which brought a massive cheer from the crowd. Lombardo, decked in high-top Converse, cargo shorts, a t-shirt and parted surfer haircut, is the original Descendents bassist and is criminally neglected for his contributions to the pop-punk genre. He stepped to the mic, said, "long live Frank," a reference to the recently departed Frank Navetta (original Descendents guitarist) and plugged in for a killer two-song set.

Seeing Lombardo in the flesh was a first for me. I was 19 years old when I picked up the bass. I'd been playing guitar for a few years and there were two too many strings for me, so I downsized. The first thing I did was try to learn all the bass riffs on "Two Things at Once" because if I could, I'd never need a lesson. Needless to say, I'm a writer and not a bassist, so you can imagine how well that turned out for me, but that's not Lombardo's fault. In fact, his stellar playing some three decades ago proved to me that I'd never make it as a musician.

Rocking a Dan Armstrong bass, Lombardo, Reynolds, Stevenson and Egerton launched into "Casual Girl" off the New Girl, Old Story record released in 1991 as TonyALL (Lombardo and his songs perfomed by him and ALL.). Then they went into Lombardo's "Suburban Home" and hearing him open with "I want to be stereotyped/I want to be classified" was so freaking awesome I'm getting goosebumps just typing that shit. 

And now to ALL. The group opened with the instumental "Charligan" and dove into an hour-long set full of hits ("Crazy," "She's My Ex," "Bubblegum, "Mary," "Frog," "Can't Say" and my two personal favorites, "Fool" and "Carnage"), a few non-hits for the diehards ("Crawdad," "No Traffic" and "Paper Tiger") and a couple of Descendents songs ("I Wanna Be a Bear" and "I'm Not a Loser"). Like it's always been, the kids go apeshit for the Descendents songs.

If there's a tighter, more talented trio of players in punk than Egerton, Alvarez and Stevenson, someone please tell me because these guys, even after not being a full-time group for the past half decade, still rule. Egerton spreads his legs and makes wild faces while downstrumming like a cross between Johnny Ramone and Greg Ginn; Alvarez fingerpicks a bass like a goddamn machine, alternating between two fingers for the quicker downstrumming stuff; Stevenson is so amazing he actually looks like he's not trying that hard because beating the shit out of the kit is what he was put on this planet for.

It's a strange feeling watching a band that means so much to some people when you don't know jack shit about them. But that's what happened during Big Drill Car's set. A few of my older friends (I'm talking mid to late 30s) swear by BDC, but they were a group who were just out of my frame of reference by the time I got into punk. So my review, unfortunately, is pretty boring. They were tight and the fans who knew them were way into it. So I guess you could say they did well. I recognized a few tunes, but that was about it.

Oh, and if you're wondering why there's no mention of My Name, that's because the HOB's website said the show started at 8 p.m. When we got there at 8 p.m., we discovered it began at 7.


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