Thursday, February 10, 2011

Take That Back, Do the Rewind. The Party’s Poppin’ It’s Social Distortion

I really can’t say I disliked this show but it was a bit disappointing. I was led to believe or, that is, I wanted to believe I was shelling out my hard earned cash for an honest to god, root hog or die PUNK show. Instead I get some impolite rock & roll that is as far away from punk as polka is to cabaret. Don’t get me wrong, the bands were tight and the players are well traveled professionals, going through the motions and stepping on their marks, never missing a beat. But the energy level on the stage paled in comparison to the heavy drinking, mosh pitting, crowd surfing audience. It was standing room only on the main floor and that allowed the crowd to form an amoeba-like living mass, pulsating and pushing each other to and fro - a sea of lunatics, a perfect storm. Bless their heart. I only wish I had the gumption to join them. It looks like fun to Daddy Bo, for sure.

My favorite band of the night was the opening act Frank Turner. He was a snotty British lad with a wicked sense of humor who threw out eff bombs like he was swatting flies and lifted his middle finger with the ease of a seasoned professional. He was like a drunken Ray Davies all Kinked up and telling his brother and the crowd to kiss his ass. He played acoustic guitar throughout his brief set and acknowledged his allegiance to the punk spirit by saying that he only plays folk music in order to destroy it from within. I gotta respect that. He performed rock anthems and shuffles and sing-a-longs, a type of Music Hall Punk. He finished his portion of the show with a great chorus and we all joined in…

I won’t sit down
I won’t shut up
But most of all I won’t grow up

The second act Lucero just didn’t have the goods, the gris gris, the…well, they sucked, kind of. The vocalist sang like Springsteen with a bad case of laryngitis with no tone or pitch, just an unworldly frog-like croaking that was like nails on a chalkboard. This dude was killing my ears and I’m convinced he was singing in an alien language known only to Lucero and the Klingons. Yeah, but…it grows on you, until it’s annoying. There was a pedal steel player that was riffing like crazy but all his efforts were buried in the mix. Too bad. The crowd got heated up and restless during this set and a few fights broke out. For a minute I thought I was watching a Spirits game. Southern rock for the Jerry Springer crowd.

By now the dawdling crowd packed the house, the main floor and the balcony. The audience was pumped, pulsating and boisterous. Sullen-looking security dudes could barely keep up with the tangle of bodies surfing up to the front of the stage. The energy was high as the anticipation reached a fever pitch and then - Social Distortion hit the stage, riffing with a heavy metal-amped up, body blasting sound. The vocal microphone produces a muffled sound and we don’t get a clear vocal from Mike Ness until the third song. Still something seemed amiss, the songs are well crafted but slowed down with no super-charged, rapid fire machine gun riffing. Ness did a little pirouette and jumped but he didn’t do it clean. He can’t seem to fly up into the air anymore – it’s like watching an old woman jog. Ness is beginning to show his age but he’s in shape and he is stocky like a body builder. His hair is cut short and he’s balding with a just a hint of a 5 ‘O clock shadow and a smug look on his face. I put on my glasses to get a good look at him. My god, Ness he couldn’t be...yes he is - ERIC SCHANTZ. OMG - it’s like steppin’ in it and trying to scrap it off with a stick but there is still a little bit stuck in the crevices. But eventually I got over it. In fact, I even dug it ‘cos it made Ness more human and accessible. In between songs I yelled out SCHANTZ- HEY-SCHANTZ-ITS ME-BO-WHHADYA DOING but he never answered me. He just texted Laura Girl and the Muscle Man and told her to tell me to shaddup. But by then I was already distracted by this nabob in the aisle who puked up his last gulp of PBR and part of his lung as he stumbled down stairs to the main floor.

Ness was cool and calculated throughout the show. He was so cool that it took him longer to roll up the sleeves of his shirt than to sing the next song. With his clean shaven visage and dress-up white shirt and suspenders, Ness looked more like a Republican fundraiser than a punk rocker.

Social Distortion is no longer a punk band but they are rockers. They did their hits and concert staples - The Creeps, King of Fools, Story of My Life, Ring of Fire, Mommy’s Little Monster as well as new songs such as Alone and Forsaken, Still Alive, Bakersfield, and Machine Gun Blues. My favorite Social Distortion song, Ball and Chain, was slowed down and beefed up and had a cumbersome, dirge like quality like the sound of a boat dredging sludge out of the Saginaw River. Nearby a forty-something bleach blond was freakin’ to the song. It could be an embarrassing moment or a simple act of letting go and having fun. I chose the latter. It’s never too late to get your freak on and have a good time.

Social Distortion does not sound like a punk band anymore. Instead they are a hard working touring band of professional musicians who put on a good show. They play the hits but they also perform new material with an updated sound. They are scheduled to release a new CD, Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes, on January 18th, 2011 while on an extended tour across the USA and Australia.

So… the story, the real story was the people in the crowd. All those incredible 40 year old fans, punked up and altered, dancing and crowd surfing and acting the fool may be hubris but then again it just may be good clean fun. The reverie of these unselfconscious music lovers inspired me to be more aware of my own body and my energy. They opened me up to a sense of spaciousness that’s been in hibernation for several years. Toward the end of the show I nodded off briefly and awoke with a start. Life lessons can occur in the most unlikely places.

Bo White

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