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

Top 10 Best* Social Distortion Songs

Social Distortion has played a significant musical role in my life. Growing up in Orange County in the 80s, it was hard to ignore this perennial punk band.

I was barely a teenager when introduced to Social Distortion along with their seminal album Mommy’s Little Monster. I wasn’t much in to punk rock but it struck a chord with me. I liked it. They quickly became a favorite and I continue to follow them to this day.

Mike Ness is the cement, foundation and remaining original member of the band as he’s managed Social Distortion through several lineup changes. It’s been 15 years since co-founder and guitarist Dennis Danell died. Ness has done a remarkable job in finding a replacement with Jonny “2 Bags’ Wickersham and in 2004 a solid bassist in Brent Harding who replaced John Maurer after a 20 year stint.

Social Distortion is approaching 40 years and in 2015 toured their self-titled 1990 album that solidified their place in rock music. Today, the punk angst is mostly gone but Ness and his band still know how to bring the fury. The evolution of Social Distortion might not sit well with punk rock purists but they’re the only band to survive all the wreckage from the past.

As with the debut Top 10 list I started with Metallica this list was difficult to boil down. Social Distortion only has eight studio albums, nine if you want to count the EP 1945 that included just three songs of which the title track I opted to leave off this Top 10 Best Social Distortion Songs list. Of those albums, the compilation Mainliner: Wreckage From The Past included the three tracks from 1945, two from Mommy’s and a few other new or alternative versions of existing songs.

*Despite the small catalogue of studio albums finding 10 to take with me on that deserted island was not easy but here goes. Believe it or not, I left off “Ball and Chain” which is likely a result of its heavy radio play and a song I’ve heard so many times.

These songs are in no particular order but I have to put an all-time favorite in the #1 spot.

  1. Story of My Life – Social Distortion (1990)

In many respects, Social Distortion’s self-titled album turned into a high school anthem for me and many others, and a big part of that was “Story of My Life” perhaps the band’s most popular song with timeless resonation. The opening guitar hook is as recognizable as any in classic rock today. Just as good as the melody and rhythm of the song are the lyrics. Back then, little did we know we’d be singing along with Ness just a few years later for the same reasons.

  1. Moral Threat – Mommy’s Little Monster(1982)

Perhaps the most under the radar song in Social Distortion’s catalog, “Moral Threat” closes out Mommy’s with Ness exasperation at his finest. If there’s one song that sums up the punk rock movement it has to be this one. Ness clearly wasn’t one to back down from a fight but his best offense came out in his lyrics. He certainly doesn’t hold back.

Moreover, “Moral Threat” showed that these young punk kids not only knew how to play but arrange a song. The slow tempo jam that starts just under halfway through slowly picking up for the next minute and half along with a blistering guitar solo proved this band had some roots that just needed some fertilizer to get a little deeper.

  1. Prison Bound – Prison Bound(1988)

Indeed, Ness was prison bound which nearly derailed the band. A heroin addiction and other law troubles almost made Social Distortion a mere footnote in the annuals of punk rock history. He got clean and returned with a very sober and somber album, six years after the band’s full length debut, of which the title track simply shines.

  1. Winners and Losers – Sex, Love and Rock ‘n’ Roll (2004)

Social Distortion’s most beautiful song. This is what endears the listener to the artist. It’s a masterpiece in terms of song writing both musically and lyrically. “Winners and Losers” is as heart wrenching as it is soulful forcing the listener to reflect on their own life and ask themselves the tough questions. It emotional in any state of mind and what a thrill it would be to sit down and talk to Mr. Ness about this song. Thank God he rose from the ashes of addiction to soldier on and eventually bring us this absolute gem.

  1. Mommy’s Little Monster – Mommy’s Little Monster (1982)

“Telling Them” almost made the cut but every parent’s nightmare is described in the title song to Social Distortion’s iconic album. That opening guitar chord is pure sugar.

  1. Bad Luck – Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell (1992)

The follow-up album to Social Distortion included this guitar heavy song that sliced a little bit from the popular grunge era that was exploding at the time. Little did we know a hierarchy of songs and albums was forming, at least in my opinion. In some respects that’s what left off “When She Begins” a song I desperately tried to find room for on this list.

  1. I Was Wrong – White Light White Heat White Trash (1996)

Mike Ness has grown up and he finally admits it in this awesome hard rock song. It wasn’t bad luck at all, OK maybe a little, but Ness comes full circle in admitting past mistakes and says it pretty eloquently in “I Was Wrong.” I love the bridge about halfway through followed by a solid guitar solo that elevates this song to one of the band’s best.

  1. Far Behind – Greatest Hits (2007)

Ness might have exorcised his demons but that doesn’t mean the anger is gone. I’ve worked with and been around many people who “shake my hand while pissing on my leg,” heck who hasn’t, and “Far Behind” is well worth investing in an album that throws out this delicious new carrot despite being a “best of” compilation.

  1. Reach for the Sky – Sex, Love and Rock ‘n’ Roll (2004)

The opening song off the band’s first new album in the new millennium, “Reach for the Sky” is as upbeat as it is melodious. The lyrics hold on to Ness’ reflective nature as he ponders the future but surrounded by a hard rocking guitar chord and catchy hooks. The quasi acapella section helps elevate this song and shows Ness trying new and different structures.

  1. Machine Gun Blues – Hard Times And Nursery Rhymes (2010)

It’s been six years since Social Distortion’s last album! And this is the best song on it. Don’t think it’s an afterthought coming in at #10 to simply recognize this album. Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes clearly shows the band trying new and creative elements to song writing. It takes a few listens to embrace and though it’s not my favorite and probably not as punk rock as veteran fans would like, this song excels, and is Social Distortion at its finest. By the way, the guitar solo has early 80s written all over it.

It’s hard to include just 10 songs from a band that’s been such a companion for 30 years. Perhaps, the best solution is a list reflecting the number of songs the band plays during live performances. Then I could simply include what songs I want to hear live. Hopefully, 2016 brings a new album to make this list even more difficult! Feel free to list your favorite Social Distortion songs below.

Written By: AndrewT

Concert Review: Social Distortion Brings 1990 into the Present at the Roseland Theater

Social Distortion stage

Social Distortion on stage at the Roseland Theater in Portland, OR

Social Distortion brought a full keg of piss and vinegar to their sold out performance on Saturday night at the Roseland Theater in Portland, OR as part of the band’s tour commemorating 25 years of their self-titled album.

Fronted by everyone’s favorite punk rocker Mike Ness, Social Distortion rocked for nearly two hours playing 18 songs including the entirety of the album that brought main stream success in 1990.

They wasted little time in delivering the goods opening the show with the first song off the album “So Far Away” and followed the tract list sequentially skipping only “Ring of Fire” saving it for the end of the night. Social Distortion executed each song with fiery intensity stopping only once between “Ball and Chain” and “It Coulda Been Me” so Ness could give the audience some background on how the album came together.

It was something to witness (and hear) however, when the band started the fantastic “Story of My Life,” the audience exploded. Then Ness dropped those opening lyrics anyone over the age of 18 knows too well – “High school seemed like such a blur” – and he had a 1,000 of the Social D faithful as background singers for the rest the likely anthem for many who were of that age back then.

Awesome.

The crowd pretty much had Ness’ back throughout the first hour which is how long it took to perform the album. The band played with precision, sounded great, except for the opening two songs when Ness’ mic came off a bit hot, and barely came up for air as they shredded through each song at a blistering pace.

Mike Ness

Mike Ness

Ness and rhythm guitarist Jonny “2 Bags” Wickersham each took turns in the spotlight and really classed up “Let it Be Me,” “Ball and Chain,” “She’s a Knockout” and the final tract “Drug Train” with extended solos and jamming around with bassist Brent Harding.

The band took a bit of a breather once they finished the eponymous album as if they were warming up prior to a practice session with Ness soloing a bit and addressing the crowd calling it “Buying time” before launching into “Cold Feelings” from 1992’s Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell. Then they really slowed the pace playing The Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses” which Ness said he first heard when he was five years old. The rather active mosh pit up until this point also took a breather.

They followed with Hank William’s “Alone and Forsake” which Social Distortion covered on their latest album Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes now four years old. They kept the pace slow with “This Time Darlin’” the penultimate tract off Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell then brought back the fury with the great “Far Behind” an ode for anyone who has ever been stabbed in the back.

Jonny Wickersham

Jonny “2 Bags” Wickersham

The encore included “Don’t Drag Me Down” off White Light White Heat White Trash and finally Johnny Cash’s famous “Folsom Prison Blues” then “Ring of Fire” which completed the entirety of the anniversary album and, could be argued, is now a Social Distortion song.

Ness, 53, was on a different level this evening. He was tireless and seems to have hit a new level of musicianship both on the guitar and his vocals. The man with the rough punk rock vocals actually hits high notes.

Mike Ness Singing

Mike Ness shows no signs of slowing down

It’s been 25 years and surely there’s been some tears (the death of co-founder Dennis Danell hurt) but Social Distortion’s self-titled album put the band in the stratosphere, albeit quite briefly, and Ness rarely looks back and certainly didn’t on Saturday. Prior sets sometime include a song off 1988’s Prison Bound though not often and usually just one tune off the band’s first full-length album Mommy’s Little Monster, 1982’s effort which cemented the band’s reputation in the punk scene.

Danell, who died of a brain aneurysm 15 years ago, was replaced by the very adept Wickersham and Brent Harding came onboard with his bass more than 10 years ago. Ness has found a new core for the band which works very well though he has replaced the drummer several times in the last decade a spot now occupied by David Hidalgo, Jr.

Ness said when he wrote Social Distortion rules had formed out of the 80s punk rock scene that tried to define what is and what isn’t a punk album. Punk rock is a rebellion, he said, and he didn’t want to follow any one’s lead or whatever ideals dictated such a record though admittedly he wasn’t sure if anyone would like it.

He was wrong.

Social Distortion Portland (Roseland Theater) Setlist:

  1. So Far Away
  2. Let It Be Me
  3. Story Of My Life
  4. Sick Boys
  5. Ball and Chain
  6. It Coulda Been Me
  7. She’s a Knockout
  8. A Place in My Heart
  9. Drug Train
  10. “Buying Time”
  11. Cold Feelings
  12. Wild Horses
  13. Alone and Forsaken
  14. This Time Darlin’
  15. Far Behind
  16. Don’t Drag Me Down
  17. Folsom Prison Blues
  18. Ring of Fire

Written By: AndrewT

Concert Review: Social Distortion Delivers Memorable Yet Paced Show

Iconic rockers Social Distortion brought their brand of Punk N Roll to a sold out show in Portland on Tuesday at the Roseland Theater and took their time doing it.

Witnessing the first show of any tour, which this was, provides little more than a mental souvenir for the fan but also requires some patience on those in attendance as the kinks are worked out. The band, led by Mike Ness, did not reach the stage until after 10 p.m., more than 30 minutes after the second opening act left, and paced their way through a 16-song set.

Social Distortion singer/guitarist Mike Ness

Ness looked winded at times taking frequent breaks between songs, chatted up the audience more than I can remember and even joked at one point about needing to get some oxygen.  Perhaps more than 30 years of underground Rock N Roll will do that, especially for Ness who eclipsed 50 last week. However the playing did not suffer at all.

This was perhaps not only the strongest set of songs I can remember but Social Distortion is playing at a very high level. Ness, who founded Social Distortion with (more or less) the late Dennis Danell, has made brilliant decisions in keeping what is rightfully his band together after the exits of so many previous members.  Brent Harding is entertaining to watch on bass and how can you go wrong with veteran guitarist Jonny Wickersham, who joined after Danell passed in 2000.

The band started the show with “Bad Luck,” “So Far Away” and “Story of my Life” before ripping into “Machine Gun Blues” off their latest album Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes, which is already almost a year and a half old. At this point any frustration with the band for taking so long to start had melted away, and after “Telling Them,” all was forgiven.

Shockingly, after 10 songs (just an hour) the band left the stage. The typical encore is usually two or three songs, however Social Distortion added five and another 30 minutes including two of their best songs “Winners and Losers” and “Far Behind.” “Reach for the Sky” was also in the encore set and relaxed a bit with more of a bluegrass flavor. It worked and I applaud the band for trying a new approach, however perhaps more effective would be for Ness to sing the first few bars acapella before the band comes in hard and fast.

Mike Ness at the Roseland in Portland

Social Distortion has come a long way musically and professionally in the last three decades. The band is pretty much the only surviving member of 80’s punk rock and they are so much better than the Crawford Hall days at UC Irvine. However, 20 years ago Social Distortion opened for the Ramones at the Roseland and today they still play there. Thankfully, they passed up (whether intentional or not) playing at the Crystal Ballroom but after more than 30 years and such a loyal following the band deserves a larger venue.

Hard Times may also not be as punk rock as some would like but as Ness said during the show he’s not angry anymore. Though after pausing, he said he was angry about different problems. Anger makes for good records – Mommy’s Little Monster – but an angry and bitter teenager cannot stand the test of time . The reality is had Ness not grown up like the rest of us both he and Social Distortion would have washed out before 1990 ever happened.

Every album by Social Distortion is a testament to Ness’ life phases. The angry me against the world at the beginning, a little melancholy after spending time in prison and then reflective with how fast life moves.  From there Social Distortion, or rather Ness, gets down on himself before realizing, as all of us do eventually, that he was wrong.

Perhaps, now liberated from his personal pain, Ness is focusing on enjoying himself, the music and playing. Sex, Love and Rock ‘n’ Roll is a testament to that and is one of the band’s best albums. Hard Times simply continues with what all musicians should do: Grow in their music and writing.  Ness has indicated he doesn’t want to wait another six to seven years before releasing a new album and we can only hope he sticks to that plan.

Social Distortion plays a second show Thursday at the Roseland.

Social Distortion Portland Setlist (Roseland Theater):

Bad Luck
So Far Away
Story of my Life
Machine Gun Blues
Sick Boys
Telling Them
Bakersfield
Gimme the Sweet and Low Down
Dear Lover
Sometimes I do
Nickels and Dimes
Winners and Losers
Let the Jukebox Keep Playing
Reach for the Sky
Far behind
Ring of Fire

Written By: AndrewT