The days of pure and gritty raw punk rock may be behind us, but the well oiled machine that is Social Distortion still churns out high intensity concerts, as was the case last night in Milwaukee at The Rave.
It's hard to quantify the impact a band like Social Distortion has had on modern music. They spawned in an era of punk rock that was the foundation which alternative and grunge music was born, a time when Minor Threat, Youth Brigade, 7 Seconds, Black Flag and The Circle Jerks were regulars on the same circuit, and the concerts were attended by a few hundred kids. Touring behind Hard Times And Nursery Rhymes, their new CD and first for Epitaph Records, Social D played for a packed crowd, and the show which was originally scheduled to be played downstairs in the old President's Room was moved upstairs to the Ballroom.
Mike Ness and his band, Jonny "2 Bags" Wickersham on guitar, Brent Harding on bass, Danny McGough on keyboards and David Hidalgo, Jr. on drums, hit the stage shortly after 10 p.m., and started out with "Road Zombie," the first song on their new disc. They belted out the instrumental tune with fire and fury, setting the tone for the rest of the evening.
They quickly dug deep into their song catalog and rocked out "So Far Away" and "Bad Luck," much to the delight of the crowd. But it was "Mommy's Little Monster" that really got the crowd going early on, and while I had hoped to hear more from that legendary album, I was happy to hear anything at all.
A few songs later they played "Machine Gun Blues," a song for which they just released a mini-movie online. Ness commented that it was a "Video MTV would never play," and while this may be true, I think we're beyond MTV at this point in the YouTube age. After two weeks of being released, it already has over 65,000 views.
Ness was full of one liners and quotable moments during the 90-minute set. He dedicated the song "Gimme The Sweet And Lowdown" to "the crazy ones" and when the lights came up after the song he joked that what he saw was a "pretty scary looking crowd." All in good fun.
The show even featured a sit-in with opening act Chuck Ragan's fiddle player, Jon Gaunt. I know what you're thinking, "Social Distortion with fiddle doesn't make sense," yet, I must tell you, it was one of the more sublime moments onstage when Gaunt really nailed his part and provided great warmth and tone to "Down Here With The Rest Of Us" and "Reach For The Sky."
Telling the crowd he was "Gonna pick things up here," Ness and his band mates broke into "Making Believe," which got the crowd revved up once again. The entire night felt like one giant sing-along, everywhere you looked you saw fans mouthing along the words.
The band left the stage around the 70-minute mark. After a few short minutes they returned and delivered an outstanding encore, the first tune of which was "Prison Bound," a song that has Ness singing about being born to lose and destined to fail.
The reality is that Social Distortion is succeeding, and Ness took a moment to say that it was the "first time we've played the big room up here, thank you." And indeed, it was the largest crowd I've ever seen at a Milwaukee Social Distortion concert. Right before they played the second song of the encore, "Story of My Life," Ness took a moment to tell the crowd that "I do believe this song is the story of all our lives."
The final song of the night, a cover of Johnny Cash's "Ring Of Fire," gave Mike Ness a moment to offer the "opportunity of a lifetime" to the Milwaukee crowd during the love song. He spoke to the "fellas" in the crowd and told them they had five minutes during the song to whisper into the ear of a girl nearby. He joked that "I can't tell ya what to say" and went on to offer the advice that "The glass is half full." It was a funny moment, and then after asking, "Are you ready for this?" Social Distortion played their heavy but soulful version of the Cash classic, and ended their show on a high note.