Fifteen plays the Nostalgia Fest at the Phoenix Theater tonight, and according to reports, they’ve been practicing somewhere in the vicinity of 30 songs. That bodes well for fans, but will bode even better if the set list includes the following songs—five great Fifteen anthems that stand the test of time.
1. “Liberation” — If you’re playing a reunion show, it only makes sense to play the first song your band released. “Liberation” opened Fifteen’s self-titled 7” from 1990, and it bridged pretty clearly the gap between Crimpshrine and Fifteen: while the world has gone mad, two people find peace in their love for each other. “Just because these are songs about love and stuff doesn’t mean things don’t trouble me anymore,” Jeff explained in the photocopied lyric booklet. “It only means that I’ve found something infinitely more powerful than all the complaining and all the finger pointing and all the blaming.” This song’s intro also hints at the “tasty licks” on guitar that Jeff would eventually turn into a staple.
2. “Intentions” — When Swain’s First Bike Ride came out, many amateur guitar enthusiasts learned this song wrong, incorrectly playing the intro as chromatically ascending power chords starting on F#. Those who paid close attention learned the maj7/4-1 trick, alternately known as “squishy triangle.” Anyone who heard the song’s sad theme of giving up one’s aspirations to pursue a job in one ear while the choir of career counselors crowded the other was affected: when Jeff sings “It’s been too many years now of having my dreams beaten down,” and then repeats the words “beaten down” eight times, as if to truly beat the point to death, it’s a deeply cathartic sort of despair.
3. “C#(tion)” — Jeff told me once that he and Jack tried to arrange every song on Swain’s First Bike Ride to be perfect palindromes of each other. Listen and you’ll hear it—“Definition” begins and ends with those harmonics; “Inclination” is bookended by that noodling riff. But “C#(tion)” is an exception, with a great extended intro that repeats only as a half-time segue in the middle. This timeless song brings up two memories: 1) Seeing Green Day cover this at Gilman, thus blowing my mind, and 2) singing it with Jeff and Jack around a campfire somewhere in the sticks of Lake County. There was supposed to be a show, but for some reason everyone just killed and ate rattlesnakes instead.
4. “Domination=Destruction” — Fifteen is all but guaranteed to play “Petroleum Distillation” and at least one of the versions of “Separation” from Choice of a New Generation, so there’s no reason to waste any pennies in the fountain on those. The charms of this particular song are twofold: the fact that it initially existed as two separate songs but were combined into one, and then the way Jeff sings a melodic little “Fuck You” at the end, after exhorting “My hands are tied now, I cannot be silent in the face of the man.” You don’t realize how great this song is until it gets to the end, and then you’re like hell yeah. This is from an era when every time I saw Jeff, he wore the same Guns ‘n’ Roses T-shirt and no shoes.
5. “Run II” — After the first two albums, it’s tempting to reflect on Fifteen as the band that told you to ride a fucking bike ride a fucking bike ride a fucking bike, or gave detailed instructions on how to properly clean a hypodermic needle. Extra Medium Kickball Star was funded by the excess budget from the not-as-good Surprise! (a matter hilariously detailed in the song “The Deal”), and has this strange gem, which tells teenagers around the country that they should hitchhike to Berkeley, squat, and eat Food Not Bombs. Advising a life of squalor in a city already oversaturated with punk transplants is an unusual theme for a song, but it works, with a damn fine chorus.
Honorable Mentions: “The End,” played on the piano; “Equalized,” the Jawbreaker cover from Eggplant’s comp ‘Later, That Same Year’; “Mount Shrink Wrap,” which calculates the exact amount of shrink wrap the band is responsible for; and more than anything, probably more than any song on this silly list—“The End of the Summer,” which is just one of the prettiest goddamn love songs ever written.