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Monday, April 7, 2008

Social Distortion : Show Review

by Josh S. Henaman
photos by M'Lou Elkins
12.1.04 - The Wiltern - Los Angeles

And like the song says, "I only wish the good times would last a little longer." But as short and fleeting as the good times may be one thing is for certain, you enjoy the HELL out of 'em when they roll around. Such was the case on a chilly December 1st when Social Distortion banged out their sixth and final gig of a phenomenal run at the Wiltern. Tacked on at the last minute, the sixth show ended the band's Los Angeles leg of their tour promoting Sex, Love and Rock’n’Roll, their first full length album since 1996. Like a battle scarred reunion with the one friend who had stuck with you through all the highs and lows, the band ground out not just an hour and a half of music, but two and a half decades of hard fought and won memories.

The band's sound hasn't changed much in the last 25 years, but then again, we’re talking about Social Distortion here. They’re growth comes from the emotional evolution of their music. From the oftentimes violent Orange County punk scene of the late ‘70’s/early 80’s to the reflections of loss and maturity of today, they bring a "been there, lived that" insight that demolishes any thought of technical advancement. If you’re looking for the next big turntable cum emo whinefest, then you came to the wrong place. Social Distortion has long since ceased the frantic run and dodge across the stage which has sadly become commonplace in today’s market. Instead, for this band, the music IS the show.

From the moment Social Distortion filed onstage and Mike Ness broke into "Mommy’s Little Monster", the audience’s excitement and applause never died down and the furor of the pit continuously built upon itself until the mad crescendo of the final performance, "Story of My Life". As the band slid into their third song, "Cold Feelings", the night’s theme of disenchantment and ultimate redemption became evident. "Reach for the Sky" found Ness alone as the band took a step back and let the frontman do his thing. If anybody could trademark or patent the guttural growl brought on by the early years of hard living, then it should be Ness. The man exudes a rough cool you can’t fake onstage. But if it’s anything Ness has learned over the years it is that you can’t go it alone. You would expect more than ever after an almost total lineup change, the band would focus solely on one man, but Ness had no qualms about stepping out of the spotlight. After "Highway 101" kicks in with Charlie Quintana’s thump-thumping beat, you realize Social Distortion isn’t just about one man, it never was. It’s about living life and looking back. Every song had a meaning, every minute held a memory, never more so than with "Don’t Take Me for Granted", Ness’s first attempt at dealing with the death of his friend, and former bandmate, Dennis Danell.

Of course, no Social Distortion show would be complete without some of their vast achievements. "Bad Luck", "Prison Bound" and "Ring of Fire" burned through the audience like a rapid-fire compendium of greatest hits and Ness’s brogue and haunted opening of "Making Believe" brought the audience to an emotional standstill, that is, until the lights blazed on and the song became a rousing and oddly upbeat paean to love lost. Soon to be staples of future Social Distortion concerts, "Nickels and Dimes" and "Footprints on My Ceiling" were also included and Ness, in the role of the storyteller, peppered the night with snippets of trademark insight. It was during these moments between songs that you became aware that Ness wasn’t just lecturing on past events or just trying to keep the momentum of the evening flowing, but rather, he was talking to the audience as a man who wanted to share his life experiences.

The band knows where they came from and knows where they’re going. It never became more apparent than when Ness invited little 5 yr. old Tyler onstage and informed the audience the little boy was the future of Social Distortion. Looking back on the multiple changes in the band’s roster over the years, the statement made perfect sense. Social Distortion is about rejuvenation. Taking the experiences and lessons of yesteryear and moving forward. Always forward. And knowing you’ll have a few hundred friends to join you on the way.

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