Egyptian Room, May 6
Last night, well-established punk rock outfit Social Distortion returned to the Egyptian Room at the Mura...er, uh Old National Center. The not-so-prolific Californian group is touring in support of their latest album Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes.
After relocating from the East Coast, frontman Mike Ness formed Social D in Orange County in 1978. Yes, 1978. Over the past 33 years, Ness and his ever-changing group of backing musicians have released a mere seven albums. The five-year average wait between albums, however, has worked to Ness's advantage; the long gaps serve to incubate his stardom, and his mythos seems grow with each release. To many self-styled rock'n'roll "outlaws," Ness has become nothing short of a god.
Friday night, the Egyptian Room was filled with rough, gruff grease-types and their Betty Page-wanna-be girlfriends. The crowd was everything but diverse. As the house lights dimmed and the first band walked out on stage, it was evident that the crowd was there to see Social D and Social D alone.
The highlight of the evening was English four-piece Sharks who, despite their youth, conjured the spirits of The Clash and The Replacements during a rollicking set of thoughtful, poetic punk rock. The band, unknown to the apathetic crowd, opted out of playing a safe set and opened with the gruff a capella intro of "Trains". "How pathetic this must sound" rasped frontman James Mattock before the rest of the band kicked in with a jangly bounce that held strong throughout the rest of their set.
Next up, Chuck Ragan, who made a name for himself as the frontman for the incredibly influential Floridian punk act Hot Water Music, delivered a solo set of soulful folk and blues. His raspy voice has translated nicely from punk howl to forceful folk shouting, but the crowd didn't seem to care at all.
If you've seen the latest Social D video, "Machine Gun Blues", then you know that Social D has successfully transitioned from punk rock legend to machismo laughingstock. Mike Ness's expensive obsession with antique cars and motorcycle culture has fortified his status as a tough guy demigod.
Don't get me wrong, Social D has some classic songs in their back catalogue; "Don't Drag Me Down" still reigns as one of my favorite songs of all time. But in the last decade, Ness has dragged his songwriting into the same goofy territory as his silly persona. Sure, the band's setlist pulled tracks from all over their career but the whole show, crowd included, seemed too preposterous to be real.