Social Distortion at First Avenue, 10/19/10
October 19, 2010
First Avenue, Minneapolis
Though they were playing a club (and, really, even if they were playing a stadium) Social Distortion seem to operate as is they are playing in a seedy bar. Boxing gloves and a Shriner's fez hung from the amp stacks. One amp had a sign reading "PRISONERS STAND HERE" on it, something lead singer/guitarist Mike Ness knows a little something about, and another sign was propped up on Ness's mic stand informing: "For Your Viewing Pleasure." Indeed.
While the rest of the band was dressed in unremarkable duds, Ness, with his slicked back hair, was decked out in a zoot suit minus the jacket, his countless tattoos creeping out from the collar of his shirt. As Social Distortion roared into the set, it was like a light switch had been turned on and the energy in the room immediately changed into semi-controlled chaos. Bodies were moving in every direction on the floor as a mosh pit opened up and seemed to swallow showgoers near the vortex. Sure, mosh pits are so very '90s, but let's make one thing clear: this was no nostalgia tour.
Social Distortion have been around in some incarnation since 1978. The band has seen drug addiction, rehab, jail stints and, sadly, the death of original guitarist Dennis Danell from an aneurysm. Smaller things have run other bands aground but Social D, it seems, is unstoppable. They played old hits like "Bad Luck" and "Story of My Life" but the new songs from their forthcoming Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes, which is set for a January 2011 release, like "Bakersfield," "Machine Gun Blues," and "Still Alive" were not the type of songs to just tolerate during the show until the familiar ones are trotted out to wild cheering. They were just as good as--if not better than--many of Social D's older songs. They're full of the same punk thunder, vitriol and menacing merriment that made the band famous in the first place.
They cranked through 90-minute with stock car speed as well, Ness stopping only briefly early on to muse about current television programming (he likes "Hoarders", apparently) and to implore the audience to see Hank III when he rolls though town on Wednesday. Otherwise, it was all business and as the encore came to a close with a scorching (no pun intended) version of "Ring of Fire" it became clear that Social Distortion is a band that like very, very few before them, will never have their crown taken away.
There will never be a band that will be described by anyone, anywhere as "A better version of Social D"; 30-plus years on and they still blow bands half their age straight out of the water while barely blinking.
Critic's Bias: I was expecting this show to be a trainwreck. I'm thrilled that it wasn't.
The Crowd: Ran the gamut from semi-preppy younger females to hardcore, older punk guys--one of whom had a huge, bleached-blond mohawk.
Overheard In The Crowd: "Where's the closest bathroom?" "There's just the one upstairs." "What? Fuck!"
Random Notebook Dump: "Guess what? Nobody wants to hear just the oldies, the new stuff is great."
For more photos: See our complete slideshow by Alexa Jones.