Brothers Joe and Mike Nolte enlist the Descendents rhythm section of Karl Alvarez and Bill Stevenson to revive their old Hermosa Beach group The Last, resulting in an excellent album of energetic pop-punk.
Released Nov. 5th on End Sounds
Time for another punk rock history lesson! The Last were the first punk band in Hermosa Beach, formed in 1976 by brothers Joe and Mike Nolte. Another Nolte brother, David, was in an embryonic version of the Descendents, playing acoustic guitars with original Descendents axe man Frank Navetta. By early ’78 David had joined his siblings to play bass in The Last. Having grown up on 1960s surf, psychedelia, and folk rock, their early work was a sort of psych-inflected power pop with a rough punk vibe influenced by the Ramones.
In mid-’78 The Last arranged a meeting with the only other punk band in Hermosa, a fledgling group called Panic (who’d soon change their name to Black Flag). It was at this gathering that they met Bill Stevenson, a fishing buddy of Navetta’s and aspiring drummer who was filling in with Panic for the day and would go on to join the Descendents (and later Black Flag). The Last, Black Flag, the Descendents, and Redd Kross (another sibling act, formed in ’78) formed the cornerstones of the Hermosa Beach punk scene. Though the least-known of the groups, The Last were the first to get a record out, releasing early singles and their 1979 debut full-length L.A. Explosion! through the Bomp! label. In the Descendents’ “Van”, when Milo Aukerman sings “here in my van I can play the Last tape”, this is who he’s talking about.
Fast forward 34 years: David Nolte left The Last in 1985, and the band hasn’t had an album since 1996’s Gin & Innuendos. But the original Hermosa Beach crew is back on the scene, with the Descendents on the festival circuit, Redd Kross reformed with a new album, and two versions of Black Flag touring the U.S. It would seem the time is ripe for The Last to come back as well. Enter Bill Stevenson and Karl Alvarez of the Descendents/ALL, who join Joe & Mike Nolte to form The Last circa 2013 and release their new album, Danger. It’s my first exposure to The Last, and my immediate impression was that it sounds like a hybrid of the Descendents and Redd Kross. That is to say, it sounds awesome.
The album bounces between driving Descendents-style pop punk (“I Know”, “Unreal Love”, “When That I Am Dead”), super-catchy power pop (“Red Hair”, “I’m Not Crazy”, “Look Again”), and romantic sweetness (“I Don’t Know What to Say”, “Difference”). With the Descendents rhythm section in the band, there’s obviously going to be a huge similarity to that group. Nowhere is this more apparent than my favorite track, “Go Away Sunday”, with Alvarez’s instantly-recognizable bass lines and Joe Nolte invoking the Descendents’ revered concept of ALL (“Tell me, what do you do when you wish that you were dead? / Me, I went to the ALLboard instead”). The track bearing the most resemblance to Redd Kross has to be “She Knows Just What to Do”, with ’60s-influenced vocal harmonies and chiming guitars very reminiscent of the McDonald brothers’ songwriting on last year’s Researching the Blues. The Hermosa Beach vibe is further reinforced by the Raymond Pettibon cover art which plays with the classic “His Master’s Voice” image (on a side note, the figure on the left reminds me very much of some of Rick Froberg’s illustrations).
While Joe Nolte wrote and takes the lead on 93% of the album, brother Mike owns the title track, which uses a guitar-and-keyboard riff partially based on the main riff from the Ventures’ 1959 surf hit “Walk, Don’t Run”, here given a Doors-esque sound. Danger is a fantastic album of classic pop-inflected punk tunes. It’s hardly left my stereo since I picked it up over a month ago. Highly recommended for Descendents fans and fans of classic pop punk in general.