As I followed a troupe of boys into the Beaumont on Tuesday day, each uniformly clad in black, I knew I was walking into the right place. With as many concert-goers sporting children as Mohawks, it should comes as no surprise that most were here to see a band that has been performing for over 30 years. The floor was filled with a collection of social misfits and former social misfits ranging from six years old to sixty. They were there for some deviant behavior, loud music, cheap beer and a good ole dose of rebellion. They were there for Social Distortion.
Of course, it goes without saying that there would be no Social Distortion without Mike Ness. As Social D’s foundation and their only remaining original member, he has transcended throughout the years from punk rock kid to punk rock icon. Walking onto stage with hard shoulders, at nearly 50, he still looks like he’s just waiting for a fight. In addition to his tough guy demeanor, he also donned a black fedora, a crisp white button-up, and navy pants held up by suspenders. He evoked the imagery of a 1930s gangster more than a current day rock star. This is, of course, until the first notes rumbled out of his faithful Les Paul and the spotlight revealed tattoos covering nearly every inch of unclothed skin.
Opening with the booming instrumental, “Road Zombie”, the band, including Jonny “2 Bags” Wickersham on guitar, Brent Harding on bass and David Hidalgo, Jr. on drums, swiftly continued on without pause for at least the first 30 minutes of the show. Every song was played with intensity, passion and skill and each song was met with a nostalgia and fervor in the audience. This was translated into screaming along with the lyrics, moshing, and sometimes even a little dancing. Even the newer songs were met with this intensity, because even if every word isn’t known, every song is still 100% Social Distortion.
As the show proceeded a few additional instruments came out to play including an accordion and a fiddle. Mike Ness announced, “You gotta admit we’re pretty punk rock bringing out the accordion”. Now, when Mike Ness says something it’s hard to not automatically believe, but it is worth noting that while Social D has always contentedly had one foot in the mosh pit, the other always seems to be lingering around something more traditional. This tradition is one where the accordion or the fiddle ceases to be rebellious and instead seems necessary. It is no coincidence that one of the band’s most prevailing hits is the Johnny Cash classic, “Ring of Fire”. Social Distortion manages to find the roots of traditional American music and give it edge, vitality and a new life.
This is potentially one of the band’s greatest attributes. Sure these guys are punk, but they surpass the conformities that so many punk bands found themselves trapped inside. They could just as easily be compared to the Clash as they could Hank Williams Sr. There is an authenticity to the band that has persevered for more than three decades. Yes, there is angst drenched throughout most songs but there is also contemplation. Songs like “Story of My Life” reflect this. The lyrics may always be simple, but that doesn’t mean they cease to be thoughtful. The music is genuine and it is potentially the reason that the fan base seems to be getting bigger versus dwindling away.
However, I digress. The show was not awesome because it was introspective, but because this band knows how to put on an amazing show. With a set list filled with loads of classic tunes including, “Sick Boys”, “Mommie’s Little Monster”, and “Ball and Chain”, Social Distortion seems consistently interested in showing their fans a good time. The entire night was high energy with hard, fast, and loud melodies permeating the venue and probably a block and a half of the surrounding area.
Towards the end of the show, Ness pulled a kid onto the stage and announced that this kid was “what it was all about”. While I’m not entirely sure I can verbalize what exactly he meant, I feel as though I agree. He has been doing this for too long for it to solely be about, “sex, drugs, and rock & roll” In fact, now married and having been clean and sober for decades, rock and roll seems to be the only remaining purpose. While his slicked back hair and rigid stance still make him look tough, the twinkle in Mike Ness’ eyes as he looks onto the crowd is a dead giveaway that he is still having a good time. And maybe that is what it is all about.
Setlist: Road Zombie, So Far Away, King of Fools, Bad Luck, Mommy’s Little Monster, Sick Boys, Machine Gun Blues, Ball and Chain, Down on the World Again, Bakersfield, Gimme the Sweet and Lowdown, Down Here (With the Rest of Us), Reach for the Sky, Making Believe Encore: Prison Bound, Story of My Life, and last but not least, Ring of Fire.
By Erin Tuttle
Photos By Rebecca Armstrong