FEW MONTHS SHY OF THEIR 40TH ANNIVERSARY, FULLERTON PUNKERS SOCIAL DISTORTION COME THROUGH ABQ. ON THEIR SUMMER 2017 TOUR. It had been a long time since SOCIAL DISTORTION had come through Albuquerque. Long enough that I had pretty much thought that short of my going to some 3-day festival in Milwaukee or some damn place to catch a 30-minute set, my hope of seeing the legendary punkers was out of the question, forever to be put in that category of acts I never got to see. Fortunately for myself and many others like me, I was wrong, and on September 6th I finally had my chance.
There is a lot of build-up when you're really looking forward to seeing a band live. You can't help but think of previous shows that you've heard about, reminisce about bootleg video you saw of an old tour, and recall stories you've heard about crazy stage antics. The problem is, that even if those things were true, they happened years before, when the band was much younger and touring life didn't wear on them like it does now. Very often, as a fan you end up having a bittersweet experience; yes, you're thrilled that you finally saw this artist you admire so much, but you also feel kind of robbed of the wild show that you had heard so much about. As unfair as it is, it's very easy for us as fans to forget that rock stars age too. After so many years of going to concerts, and seeing many artists years after I first started listening to them, I've tried (and mostly failed) to not get my hopes up, or go in with some preconceived idea of what I would see. I especially try to do this with aging punk-rock acts, I mean that kind of angst must be rough to still throw around when you're approaching 60. With this mindset I went to see Orange County Heroes SOCIAL D.
And for the second time about this band, I was wrong.
The night started with the very talented country-punk artist, JADE JACKSON, whose first concert as a teenager was SOCIAL DISTORTION. Several years later the young songstress was discovered by MIKE NESS after his wife saw the singer perform in a small coffee shop. Ness brought her on immediately and produced her debut album GILDED. Based on her performance, her last show of the tour, it is undeniable that JADE JACKSON is exactly who is needed to make country music worth listening to again. She's a brilliant songwriter, has a beautiful voice, and a great player, but more than that she is real. She's raw and genuine and unapologetic. She weaves flawlessly from poetic imagery in BACK WHEN to sorrowful groove in TROUBLED END to empowered boastfulness in MOTORCYCLE. She writes with the experiences of someone three times her age. There is no bullshit with JADE JACKSON, and while her style is appealing to fans of NESS, JOHNNY CASH, DWIGHT YOAKAM and LUCINDA WILLIAMS, she could easily make fans out of those with a predilection for easily accessible pop. Make no mistake however, she is the antithesis of the horrible modern pop-country garbage that abounds at every turn.
Produced by MIKE NESS, the debut album from JADE JACKSON, GILDED is available now.
With the stage littered with props that appear at nearly every show: the RCA dog, the old time crossing guard, mannequin parts, and No Parking signs, SOCIAL DISTORTION opened their 18-song set with STILL ALIVE, and immediately laid to rest any idea that this would be some mellowed-out version of a show by their younger selves. They moved like madmen through 99 TO LIFE, GIMMIE THE SWEET AND LOWDOWN, and CALIFORNIA (HUSTLE AND FLOW), before MIKE NESS told the audience,"We're just getting warmed up!"
It was a threat.
For two hours, guitarist JONNY "2 BAGS" WICKERSHAM, bassist BRENT HARDING, drummer DAVID HIDALGO Jr., and keyboardist DAVID KALISH, led by vocalist and guitarist MIKE NESS, absolutely owned the audience. Playing "A song about learning some of life lessons, the hard way," KING OF FOOLS, and fan favorite, BALL AND CHAIN. NESS spoke to the crowd listing the influential artists they have covered in the past, "...From the ROLLING STONES to CHUCK BERRY; HANK WILLIAMS to JOHNNY CASH, now we're doing a song by JONNY 'TWO BAGS'," HOPE DIES HARD. They even gave a glimpse into the long-awaited, next album, reportedly due out in 2018, with their new song, SCARS, like "A lot of SOCIAL DISTORTION's songs, it is about life's struggles and pain," NESS clarified. During the song a fight broke out on the floor. "I have an idea, why doesn't everyone try to leave in one piece" NESS suggested to the pugilists.
"A bit of New Mexico history," NESS spoke to the audience. "From the thirties about prohibition. They took away our constitutional rights, like they're trying to do now!" Shouts of "Fuck Trump!" came from the, more-than-likely, non-voting crowd. Nodding his head in agreement, NESS cautioned, "Don't get me started on that orangutan president!" and seeming to heed his own advice, not saying any more, but rather letting the music speak volumes on its own, finishing the set with MACHINE GUN BLUES.
Throughout the night, NESS would intermittently would grab the microphone and stand with both hands in an intimate and simultaneously aggressive manner. Somewhat of an iconic pose that has been done by many, but no one exactly the way NESS does. Even from my vantage point in the balcony, I was never completely certain he wasn't going to take a swing at someone, whenever he stood like that. It is a very classic punk-rock look, made even more so when the lights came back up to reveal Ness standing in that pose, guitar hanging from his neck, to announce the first song of their encore, DON'T DRAG ME DOWN which led surprisingly well into the mellow, heartfelt tune, ANGEL'S WINGS.
NESS, giving some background to the next song, explained that he had "written the song in 1990. The music scene was changing and I wasn't sure if the song would be liked or not, but I said, fuck it, I like it!" He went on to say that, at its core, that's what the song is about; he didn't know how it would go over, but, he encouraged, "You gotta take risks in life!" As it turned out the song, STORY OF MY LIFE is one of the most popular and well known from SOCIAL DISTORTION's catalog.
SOCIAL DISTORTION's music would probably not, on the surface, be described as "hopeful." But when you listen closer, it is not very well hidden that it is exactly that. Yes, there are songs about "learning life's lessons the hard way" and about "life's struggles and pain," but the message has always been perseverance. Overcome those lessons, struggles, and pain. Lift yourself up above that, then lend a hand to those struggling to rise up behind you. The next song shows just that. "This is an important song," Ness informed the crowd. "I wrote this in the mid-nineties, in the face of racism across the U.S. It's time to make racism unacceptable again!" Giving a moment for the applause to soften, NESS continued, "This is dedicated to my Navajo brothers and sisters, a song called BAD LUCK MOTHERFUCKER."
The crowd seemed exhausted by the end of BAD LUCK, not physically, but emotionally. Everyone in the building had been on a two-hour emotional roller coaster, and everyone in the building wanted only one thing: more. Like a junkie, all anyone wanted was another fix, and our drug of choice was SOCIAL DISTORTION. NESS, seeming to know exactly how to pull our marionette strings, let us know that he had "good news and bad news. The bad news," he chuckled, "we've got a twelve-hour drive ahead of us tonight." NESS let that sink in for a moment and continued, "good news is, we've got one more song!"
When the cheers died down, Ness explained that the song came about because JOHNNY CASH had been dropped from Columbia Records, and was having a rough time, "So I kind of paved the way for CASH's comeback." NESS joked leading into RING OF FIRE. During the song, Ness brought up on stage 4 children, aged 13 and younger, from the audience. "Is it my imagination, or are kids a lot smarter than when we were their age?" Ness asked. The band kept the song going softly while Ness spoke to the kids on stage about doing well in school, being respectful, and following their dreams. Finishing his pep-talk SOCIAL DISTORTION punctuated the lecture by stretching out the song with repeated sing along verses.
The last thing I expected when I went into the venue that night to see a band that I never thought I would have another chance to see, was a message of hope. Anger, cynicism, angst, absolutely. A great performance by a legendary artist, absolutely. A kick-ass punk show, absolutely. Hope for the future, never would've guessed. That was my own short sightedness at work in ways I had not even been aware of. SOCIAL DISTORTION exceeded every expectation I had, and they taught me one of life's lessons, only not so much the hard way.
CHRiS LiNViLLE (CONTRiBUTOR)