Concert Review: Social Distortion Brings a Little Religion and Politics to Portland

Social Distortion returned to Portland, OR for the second time in 18 months on Friday at the Roseland Theater this time in support of their 2017 Spring Tour which featured two new songs, a wide selection of their 90s fare, some political speak and an ounce of religion.

Last time around the Southern California punk band celebrated the 25th anniversary of their eponymous album, this time they drew heavily from 1992’s Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell and 1996’s White Light White Heat White Trash, which offers its own religious themes.

They started things off with two from Somewhere… “Bye Bye Baby and the popular “Bad Luck” followed by the always great “Don’t Drag Me Down” off White… before tapping into their most recent album Hard Times And Nursery Rhymes – now six years old! – “California (Hustle and Flow)” which included a pretty cool extended jam and “Gimme the Sweet and Lowdown.”

Founder and lead singer Mike Ness introduced “Gimme the Sweet and Lowdown” by asking the crowd if they had watched the evening news prior to the show before making a plug for National Public Radio and saying Fox News and CNN won’t give you the “sweet and lowdown.” Not even five songs in before the reality of America collapsing in on itself snaps back. Gee thanks. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be the last time.

Perhaps that explains a somewhat subdued aura that filled the first half of thew show. Or maybe it was just the extreme momentum changes throughout the evening. Even the slam pit (oh sorry kids call it the mosh pit) took a bit to get going. The classic “Ball and Chain” felt softened in part because of the slowed tempo arrangement for the final chorus which worked well but then following this version of one of your most popular songs, by the country-infused “This Time Darlin’,” completely let the sails down.

Thankfully, Social D got right back into it with the heavy “Dear Lover” which in terms of setlist placement works far better as an opening song but helped re-energize the audience. The crowd surfing returned!

A new studio album is in the works for Social Distortion and like usual the band is taking their time. They offered a taste of what’s to come with “When You Lay Your Burden Down” a play on the religious theme of asking for help but it’s not a religious song, Ness said, who confessed to believing in God though he doesn’t read the Bible or attend church. It won’t be a radio hit either, he admitted, of the bluesy track which sounded like a marriage between “Up Around The Bend” the band’s contribution for the movie soundtrack of the same name and an old slave spiritual.

What should be a radio song is “Scars.” It’s reflective and emotional, born from Ness working through some childhood memories he swallowed after working on a book about his life appropriately titled “The Story of My Life” which is apparently also now delayed – at one time listed on Amazon as a forthcoming release. Even after just one go around, “Scars” indeed is a fine song and a polished studio version could certainly bring Social Distortion similar attention as their break-through self-titled album from 1990, especially if the rest of the album proves as splendid.

Social Distortion closed the first set with the fantastic and not often played live “When She Begins” and opened the encore with “I Was Wrong” and then the political discourse began. In a monologue of sorts, Ness rambled on regarding today’s political climate, beating around the bush extensively without naming names and said something or other about reading books and documentaries which seemingly enlightened him. Then there was something about how all the corporations have the power and money, or something to that effect,  and then he mentioned that Canada has healthcare. Huh?

It made little sense partly because he was hard to understand but also it seemed what he really wanted to say, he feared saying. Whether that’s because he knows all political stripes enjoy Social Distortion (quite evident in the sold-out crowd) or perhaps deep down a rock concert isn’t the forum to spout what’s often called “political vomit,” whatever the case, entirely unnecessary and unwanted.

(However, considering Ness earlier in the evening sang Your history books are full of lies/media-blitz gonna dry your eyes it’s a bit ironic, don’t ya think? And, did Ness include economist Milton Friedman and Walter Williams in his readings? Especially when it comes to healthcare. Does he know that Canadians who need major surgery now often come to the United States because the wait line is so long and pay for it out of pocket? He mentioned watching documentaries along with having concerns for the environment…. )

Oh, sorry! You came here not for a political review but to read how good the Social Distortion concert was in Portland last night. Just like the audience went to watch Social Distortion play their awesome songs at the Roseland Theater but got a political review. On to the show!

The band wrapped up their 17 song, hour and 45 minute set with an acoustic version of “Gotta Know the Rules,” “Story of My Life” and “Ring of Fire.” Despite the above intrusions, the last half of the show kicked and it’s a delight to see Ness really extending his vocal range. “Scars” tested him and you’d be surprised just how high his growl can reach. The band, which includes Jonny “2 Bags” Wickersham on guitar and Brent Harding on bass (together with Ness comprise the longest running line-up in the band’s history) played tight and included a few more musicians at various times during the night including an acoustic guitarist and keyboardist/pianist as well as David Hidalgo, Jr. on drums.

But it’s time for a new album. Hopefully, Ness (who is synonymous with Social Distortion) brings a fresh stage show and a whole bunch of new songs back to Portland in the forthcoming year.

Social Distortion Setlist at Roseland Theater in Portland, OR

  1. Bye Bye Baby
  2. Bad Luck
  3. Don’t Drag Me Down
  4. California (Hustle and Flow)
  5. Gimme the Sweet and Lowdown
  6. Ball and Chain
  7. This Time Darlin’
  8. Dear Lover
  9. “Buying Time” – Instrumental jam
  10. Cold Feelings
  11. When You Lay Your Burden Down
  12. Scars
  13. When She Begins
  14. I Was Wrong
  15. Gotta Know the Rules
  16. Story of My Life
  17. Ring of Fire

Written By: AndrewT

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