It has been more than 35 years since Mike Ness formed Southern California punk band Social Distortion. Over the course of seven albums, the band mixed their hardcore punk roots with influences from straight-ahead rock n’ roll, rockabilly, and even a noticeable dose of outlaw country that would evolve into a distinctive signature sound. It was the band’s third album and first for a major label, Social Distortion, that introduced the band to the masses. In 2015, celebrating the album’s silver anniversary, Mike Ness, the band leader and sole original member of Social Distortion, assembled the current band members and hit the road for a celebratory tour that stopped at the Ritz in Raleigh. Now, two years later, with word that Social Distortion is working on a new album, the band returned to the Ritz for another no-holds-barred performance.
Opening the evening was fellow SoCal-based singer-songwriter Jade Jackson. Backed by a trio of bandmates Jackson played a set of soulful and swaggering country-rock songs from her debut album, Gilded, which was produced by Mike Ness. Jackson’s strong vocals and animated guitar playing remained at the forefront as the songs from Gilded were delivered with a bit more punch and power without losing their emotional impact. Jackson was a revelation, and it’s easy to see why Ness has been backing her. He even took the time to come out on stage between songs toward the end of her set to express his admiration and support.
Social Distortion hit the stage without a new album to promote or a classic anniversary to celebrate, and kicked off their set with the aptly titled “Still Alive” from 2011’s Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes. Frontman and lead guitarist Mike Ness has not lost a step. His raspy yet powerful vocals and lead guitar chops are better than ever, and at 55, he seems to have defied the aging process, simply getting more distinguished and more badass with each passing year like Sam Elliott or the late Johnny Cash. Backed by Jonny “2 Bags” Wickersham on guitar, Brent Harding on bass, David Hidalgo on drums, and David Kalish on keys, Ness and Social Distortion ripped through a solid set of songs that mixed recent material like “Gimme the Sweet and Lowdown” and “California (Hustle and Flow)” with fan favorites from their 90’s heyday including, “King of Fools,” “Dear Lover,” and “Ball and Chain.” Despite Mike Ness pausing occasionally to address the audience on topics both personal and political, the energy and enthusiasm in the room never wavered over the course of the 90+ minute set. With the finish line in sight, Ness got intimate and personal with the intensely reflective song “Scars,” before closing out with a fiery “Machine Gun Blues.” The band returned for a 3 song encore of “Angel’s Wings,” “Don’t Drag Me Down,” and “Story of My Life.” With both the band and crowd bathed in sweat and all but spent, Ness offered to play any song the people wanted to hear. His offer was met with the expected random song titles being bellowed out from all over the room. After goading the crowd for a bit, Ness broke into a sly grin before announcing, “I’m just fucking with y’all, we know what song we’re playing next.” Followed by their traditional show ending cover of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.” Social Distortion are a band that while glancing in the rearview mirror to appreciate where they’ve been, still have the foot firmly on the accelerator as they continue roaring ahead. Here’s hoping they continue to tour regularly and the new album hits the streets soon!
Social Distortion + Jade Jackson @ The Ritz – August 20th 2017