Social Distortion, a venerable institution in punk, laces a hardcore attitude with gritty blues. They've certainly evolved over the years, with a lineup that resembles the original only in its frontman: the celebrated Mike Ness. It's a testament to their continued popularity and broad accessibility that they're still packing venues in this epoch of punk's death throes.
The crowd Sunday night at the Egyptian Room included an impressive variety of fans: yuppie couples, hairy bikers, skinheads, soccer moms with children in tow, mohawked punks and a bevy of Bettie Page look-alikes. Some might say that they've simply "sold out," but I prefer to think that Mike Ness and Social Distortion just figured out how to adapt and survive in an industry that would have originally sought to cast them out.
Social D brought two relatively new California groups along with them for the tour. Strangers, a straight-up punk band with a definite Dead Boys, Clash and Undertones influence, played first, but their sound didn't mesh well with the acoustics of the Murat, and simple guitar solos and Joe Strummer-esque vocals failed to impress. Their valiant efforts were followed by Civet, whose turned-up amps created more unintentional feedback than hardcore effects. Quite bluntly, the ladies of Civet sounded exactly like a female copy of Rancid before those boys started regularly incorporating ska into their songs.
When Ness finally trooped on stage, the crowd burst into cheers and applause. The first few songs, which hailed from the Mommy's Little Monster
era, retained much of the rough and tough sensibility of 1980s punk without sacrificing the musical talent that Ness has gained since then. They rapidly moved up the chronological catalogue of singles, giving sort of a live version of their Greatest Hits album. Ness and his minions sounded good, but were almost too note-perfect to be a live punk band. The dour-looking organist added some backing chords not to be found on any album, and Ness' solos were gritty and metallic with a hint of rockabilly.
Ness, once a heartthrob, still has some of that charm even in his later years, and made several women swoon as he and his instrument melded into a feverish one-night stand. He traversed the stage to give everyone a view of his tricky fingering when he wasn't performing his unmistakable rough croon into the mic, and paused occasionally to comb back his hair, reminiscent of him creating "the look" in Another State of Mind
, the 1982 documentary that helped Social D rise to fame.