JAM Magazine Concert Reviews

October 18, 2012
House of Blues - Cleveland
Cleveland, OH USA
Review by David Brais
Photos by David Brais

Social Distortion

Satisfying Pent Up Energy of a Fervent Crowd

As we grow older, and supposedly wiser, memories of our misspent youth are safely locked into the deep recesses of our minds. Once in a great while, however, an incident occurs that opens up those subconscious vaults to recollect the experiences of the way we were. One of those treasured keys that unlocked the past for the gathered masses inside the House of Blues came in the form of Mike Ness, the enigmatic leader of Social Distortion.

Social D's stop in Cleveland was the first of a two-night, sold-out stand at the venerable H.O.B. Going in to the venue this cool October evening was akin to a young child walking into a candy store. You knew something great was about to happen once you entered the facility, you just didn't know what. And it was that anticipation, more than anything else, which made this event all the more exciting.

You could sense the enthusiasm for Social Distortion in the air. Everyone inside this packed house was ready to relive some part of their ‘yesterday' this night, and Mike Ness was the perfect medium to channel that spirit. When the lights finally went down, and the conquering heroes appeared on stage, the roar of approval was deafening.

The only constant in Social Distortion's 34-year history has been Ness. Appropriately enough, he started the show off with "I Was Wrong," his poignant song of youthful rebellion against society, and losing the self-destructive battles he fought along the way. This tune not only set the tone for the evening's festivities, it virtually unleashed this audience's ‘inner punk'. It was the next offering, however, entitled "So Far Away" that really released the pent up energy of this fervent crowd. Honestly, it was the first time shooting a show at the House of Blues I was thankful security was watching my back. The impassioned feelings this song aroused created near pandemonium with people jumping up and down and singing every word. I was somewhat amazed by the reaction because this track, off of Social D's breakout self-titled album in 1990, wasn't even the composition that broke this band on a national scale. The real hit off the record back then, "Ball & Chain", put Social Distortion on the map, and interestingly enough, never made it on tonight's set list. With this crowd, it didn't matter.

This audience was wound up and ready to rock when Ness hit the guitar chords for Social Distortion's biggest hit, "Bad Luck". With the crowd surging up front, standing inside that barricade I actually felt caught ‘somewhere between heaven and hell.' It was a heck of a place to be the first three songs of this show, but also an eye-opener in witnessing just how passionate this group's fan base has become over the years.

After the third song, Ness took a momentary break to address the audience with a simple line of praise. "This is a far better fucking crowd than we had in Cincinnati!" The singer's comments were met with a roar of approval as the band launched an audio assault on the assembled masses with "Machine Gun Blues." Keeping the energy level at a high volume was no problem for Ness, guitarist Jonny Wickersham and the rhythm section of bass player Brent Harding and drummer David Hidalgo, Jr. Again, this capacity crowd sang each song loud and proud and rivaled the intensity of their anti-hero on stage. It was indeed an impressive display of crowd devotion, and knowledge, of everything Social D.

Social Distortion started the night by delivering seven high powered and energetics tunes in rapid succession, the band settled things down with the gritty, six-minute plus roots rocker "Bakersfield". The classic Gibson guitars both Ness and Wickersham used was perfectly balanced by the rhythm section and keyboards to make this number one of the evening's highlights.

The band quickly replaced the subdued mood of the previous song with "Gimme the Sweet & Lowdown" and a real crowd favorite, "Story of My Life." It was high tide in the House of Blues during this song as the crowd surfers made their way to the front barricade time and time again. Security would beach the surfers and send them back into the ocean of people they had just crossed. The evening finally ended with the rollicking "Nickles and Dimes." As Ness thanked the crowd for coming to the show, chants of "Social D, Social D" began ringing throughout the building. The pleas would be answered by a five-song encore that ended with their punk rock version of the Johnny Cash classic, "Ring of Fire".

It was evident, by the look on the faces in the crowd as the lights came up, that Social Distortion's 90-minute high octane show had literally sucked the energy out of this capacity crowd. Tonight's performance was indeed a nostalgic love fest between artist and audience that would leave everyone in the room mentally, emotionally and physically drained. It was the perfect low to head home on.

Set List:
I Was Wrong
So Far Away
Bad Luck
Machine Gun Blues
Sick Boys
Telling Them
Cold Feeling
Gimme the Sweet and Lowdown
Story of My Life
Sometimes I Do
Nickels and Dimes
Company C
Far Behind
Reach for the Sky
Let the Jukebox Keep on Playing
Ring of Fire