For the anniversary of their break out, self-titled record, Social Distortion is on tour and celebrating by playing the album in it’s entirety. Upon it’s release in 1990, their first record on a major label was a big success for any band from the punk genre and became their largest seller to date. This was before Green Day broke out with Dookie, and before Nirvana changed the landscape of music radio with Nevermind. It was big news then for a band founded in punk to sell over 250,000 records. The band had showed signs on their previous record, Prison Bound, that they were not content staying within the confines of hardcore punk, and this record leaned them further towards a blend of country or rockabilly and a more traditional roots rock and roll. They brought the party to a sold out house at Charlotte’s Fillmore on Friday night, their first return to Charlotte, as well as the venue, since 2012.
The crowd arriving early saw too very good sets from artists with a country flavor. Colorado’s Drag The River led off with a quick run of some of their best songs from their 20 year career.
“We only have 30 minutes,” lead singer, Chad Price, told the crowd before belting into their next song.
They did a good job of blending some of their more raucous numbers with ballads and were well received by the early arriving crowd, who had already filled the bottom portion of The Fillmore completely.
South Carolina’s Nikki Lane was next with her brand of country, which is way too genuine for any contemporary country radio station. Her biggest response was when she acknowledged that we may not know them, but she was going to bring someone out that we would definitely recognize; Social Distortion lead guitarist, Johnny “2 Bags” Wickersham, joined her for Love’s On Fire, from her most recent release, 2014’s All Or Nothin’.
After walking on stage with The Rolling Stone’s Gimme Shelter over the PA, they jumped right into So Far Away, track one from the album of the hour. Unlike The Rolling Stones, who are celebrating the fortieth anniversary of Sticky Fingers this summer by playing that record in a rearranged order or only selected tracks, Social Distortion is playing their self titled in the original order every night, minus one song, saved for the encore. Mike Ness takes a minute to thank the crowd for celebrating with them and reminisces about the doubts he had in the direction they were going.
“(These songs were written) about five years after drugs and alcohol. I wasn’t sure if anyone would want to hear them or not. Then all of a sudden, they’re playing Social Distortion on the radio.”
Ness, dressed in a black “Jerome’s Boxing Gym” t-shirt, exposing both full sleeved tattooed arms, chatted with the crowd in-between nearly every song. He threw at us everything from his philosophy of punk, “Punk was about being an individual and doing what you wanted to do,” to some personal credos, “I don’t want to die old with my dick in my hand.” Then, occasionally, he would offer up a quick glimpse into the meaning of a song, such as, “Some of us make it out of it, and some of us don’t. This is a song of gratitude,” before Let It Be Me.
After the self titled record was finished, there was time for a handful of songs from later releases and covers of The Stones, Hank Williams, Sr., and a bonus Johnny Cash song. The mosh pit in front of the stage was active throughout the night, but amped up even further when Folsom Prison Blues was played.
A quick note to some attendees standing in front of the stage that clearly had never been to a Social Distortion show: Yes, you were in a mosh pit. Nobody is trying to hurt you or your girlfriend. Perhaps you should move further back away from “the danger” the next time, where you can enjoy the show without ruining it for others. Okay, I’m done!
The final song of the night was the only one yet unplayed from their twenty-fifth anniversary album. The Cash cover, Ring Of Fire, ended the night with Ness bringing three young kids, aged 8 to 14, up on the stage. Wait– when did parents start bringing kids to Social Distortion shows? My first SD show was some time in the summer of ‘89, on the tour supporting their second record, Prison Bound. As a teen jumping around in the pit, slamming into strangers and listening to those early punk songs, I never imagined I would be seeing them over 25 years later and parents would be bringing their grade schoolers to the shows. I’ve seen them many times over the years and, other than seeing small kids at festivals, I think this was a first– definitely the first time I’ve seen school kids on their stage! It displays the draw, fan loyalty and incredible staying power Ness and this band have cultivated over close to 30 years.
With kids on stage, one eye on Ness and the other back to their parents in the pit, Ness wanted to leave them with some important life lessons on where they should focus their attention at school. Math, “You’re gonna need to know your numbers.” Spelling, “You might grow up to be an author or a journalist,” and History, not as important, “You can just Google that stuff. When they ask you and you don’t remember just tell them you were at Social Distortion show.”