Social Distortion live at Shepherds Bush Empire

Social Distortion live at Shepherds Bush Empire, May 3rd 2015

socialdlive_Many Social Distortion fans out there will tell you that the band’s 1983 debut Mommy’s Little Monster is their best record to date. This baffles me. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a great punk rock record, but one almost entirely free of the country and other American roots music influences that, to these ears, define Social Distortion among their Californian punk brethren. These aforementioned influences were incorporated in fine style on 1988’s ‘Prison Bound’, but further refined on 1990s self-titled record; my personal favourite, and also home to some of their best-known songs (including ‘Story Of My Life’ and ‘Ball And Chain’). Arguably, it is this album that would give a Social D newcomer the best snapshot of what Mike Ness’ crew are all about, and the man himself clearly agrees with me; to the extent that his band are currently playing the album in its entirety every night, to celebrate its 25th anniversary.

These seasoned veterans certainly look and sound good as they rip through the opening ‘So Far Away’ and ‘Let It Be Me’; so it’s a shame that the crowd don’t seem half as up for it as they were when Social D last played here (about four years ago). It’s at times like these that I wish that I could empty the venue and re-fill it with a couple of thousand clones of myself. Ok, that would mean a whole crowd of slightly podgy 30-something caffeine-addicted misanthropists, but they’d give lesser-known cuts like ‘A Place In My Heart’ the sing-along and jump-around that they deserve, and THEY’D LEAVE THEIR FUCKING CAMERA PHONES AT HOME. Thankfully, though, Mike seems happy, and kindly takes the time to say hello, remind us that we don’t have to go to work tomorrow, and ramble like a star-struck kid about having met The Clash bassist Paul Simonon earlier that day.
sociald
If that sounds a bit too cosy for comfort, it’s worth pointing out that the Social Distortion (and Mike Ness) of today are a far more stable and – dare I say it? – professional beast than they were 25 years ago, and at times tonight, a little Mommy’s Little Monster-style sense of danger wouldn’t have gone amiss. The songs have stood the test of time, though, and even recent cuts like ‘Gimme The Sweet And Lowdown’ are played with kind of vigour that suggests Mike still has a few axes to grind after all these years.

The one-two knockout punch of ‘Ring Of Fire’ and anti-racism anthem ‘Don’t Drag Me Down’ are pretty much as good an encore as you’ll hear from anyone, and whilst it’s been fun revisiting Social Distortion’s past tonight, they’ve also proved that – over three decades in – there’s still plenty of gas left in this rock n’ roll machine.

Review: Alex Gosman
Photo credit: Albert Saludes

Social Distortion – live

London Shepherd’s Bush Empire,
7/7/11

social_distortionFor British Social Distortion fans, the band’s shows are like hot summers – we’re lucky if we get one every few years. Three UK dates (all in London) in the last decade is hardly an impressive track record, but it does lend tonight’s show a sense of occasion, with all manner of punks, greasers and rockabilly types lining the street and pubs outside the Empire. Young or old, they’re a devoted bunch; a fact underlined when Social D frontman Mike Ness invites a couple of kids onstage during the band’s encore. They’ve travelled from Glasgow and Manchester, and like the rest of us, they look pretty damn stoked to be here.

Crazy Arm sound huge for a bunch of skinny guys from Devon. Like the headliners, they’re blessed with the ability to craft songs that are anthemic without being overblown, and the likes of ‘Still To Keep’ and ‘Broken By The Wheel’ are infused with a frenetic folk-punk energy that betrays their rural roots. The applause gets louder with every song, and it’s well deserved, especially from such a partisan crowd.

Cynical folks among us may argue that what we witness tonight is really The Mike Ness Band, but with all due respect to past and present members, Ness has always been the driving force (and main songwriter) behind Social Distortion. It’s doubtful that the Empire will see a louder sing-along in 2011 than that which greets third song ‘Story Of My Life’, and rightly so; for these songs are indeed soundtracks to the frontman’s life of struggle, tragedy and eventual redemption. There’s no bullshit with these guys, and not much in the way of pointless banter; they just rock out with the energy and conviction of a band half their ages, with Ness and guitarist Jonny ‘2 Bags’ Wickersham frequently soloing away down the front into the faces of a sweat-drenched, sold out crowd.

Given the sheer number of classics in their canon, it’s debatable as to whether a perfect Social Distortion set-list could ever exist, but tonight they get pretty close. Renditions of ‘Dear Lover’ (from 1996’s underrated ‘White Light, White Heat, White Trash’) and ‘So Far Away’ are both very welcome surprises, as is the sound of the crowd singing the opening guitar line to ‘Don’t Drag Me Down’. Old standards like ‘Mommy’s Little Monster’ and ‘1945’ are still shot through with anti-authoritarian vigour, whilst at the other end of the timeline, a couple of female backing singers are brought on to add a soulful edge to ‘California (Hustle And Flow)’.

These old road-dogs have come a long way since their fury-fuelled 1980s heyday, but they’ve got no end of stories to tell, and a damn fine way of telling them. Here’s hoping for their swift return to these shores.

Alex Gosman

Descendents video from Shepherds Bush

This post has been edited due to updated information.

miloFollowing last night’s bizarre show at the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, the Descendents have decided to pull their second night after much speculation today online.

Bass player Stephen Eggerton tweeted last night that the show must go on but that has now changed.Sorry to all the people who had traveled miles to see them. No doubt they will be back for Reading and Leeds with a fun packed show. Read the full review of last night here and watch a video of Silly Girl where poor Milo’s voice breaks in two here. Get well soon, we still love you.

Descendents – live

Shepherds Bush Empire, London
Monday 25 April

descendentsThe news of Descendents returning to the UK after 15 years was so exciting that we bought tickets as soon as the show was announced and then sat on them awaiting their return. But nobody could have prepared for what they were about to see tonight at the Shepherds Bush Empire in West London as this was the gig that should never have happened.

The band traveled through Europe playing the Groezrock Festival in Belgium and the Monster Bash in Berlin, both shows with glowing feedback on the web making the anticipation for this to be an absolute classic, but one thing they didn’t prepare for was Milo Aukerman‘s voice blowing out after these 2 shows and the band turning up to London knowing that they had to wing it.

The support bands did their warm up sets, the lights went down and the four piece walked on stage to a rapturous applause that unfortunately turned to boos within 5 songs. Kicking off with the classic track Descendents, Milo’s voicebox unfortunately sounded like he was singing in a black metal band. He woofed his way through the track clearly uncomfortable with the situation and it only took 2 more songs of pain (Hope and Silly Girl) until Aukerman smashed his mic on the stage in a fit of rage with the remains of the broken metal spraying the remains across Stephen Egerton’s face. The crowd’s energy levels and anticipation was now going through a major change as anxiety and confusion replaced the high of seeing their fave band and the atmosphere became very awkward. Knowing they had big problems, the band walked of stage to discuss what to do next and instead of pulling the show there and then they decided to improvise the set they had planned and continued with others sharing mic duty. This inevitably made this show an instant car crash which is rare to see even in punk rock these days.

A blonde haired singer from either one of the support bands or a crew member filled in to take care of vocal duties for Sour Grapes and I Don’t Wanna Grow Up but this brought boo’s from the now baying crowd who had now realised that the night was about to turn into a karaoke session instead of a Descendents gig. Everything sux tonight for many but what else could the band do other than to leave the stage? They had made their decision to play so now they had to try and get away with salvaging a nightmare. Nobody was going to win from this decision, some may say it was brave but others would say it would have been a costly mistake to pull the show. Despite all of these thoughts that were hushed in the crowd the band rolled on and you have to give them huge credit for trying.

milodescendentsMilo was not bowing out though, he came back and took care of vocals (sounding like a foghorn) for Bear, Coffee Mug and I Like Food before rolling out a grimacing version of All-o-gistics and Enjoy before another punk rock huddle of decision making brought 3 Black Flag covers into the set with Milo now playing Bass, Bill Stevenson absolutely thrashin’ on guitar and Karl Alvarez did a grand job on the vocals as he threw himself on top of the front row playing Rollins.

Thankfully, the boo’s turned to sighs. Booing bands at any gig is not exactly welcome, the same as when people boo their own team at a football match. It’s not as if these entertainers come out to deliver a bad job; everyone has their ‘off days’ but there were noticeable boo’s from a section of the 2000 crowd who had paid their money to see the Descendents and were now being treated to a cover of the classic Bloodstains by Agent Orange and a Zeke track. Out of all the guests who filled in on vocals tonight Eric Melvin from NOFX got the best reception after singing Bikeage and backed up on Coolidge. There were big smiles all round when he turned up with a mic in his hand. The show ended with Milo going through the pain barriers to sing Myage before the curtains came down to close a disastrous show for a very confused and emotional crowd.

Realistically the Descendents made the wrong decision to play the show tonight and should have gracefully accepted that it was going to be a big ask to pull off playing in front of a packed London crowd who were ecstatic about seeing them play after all these years. Due to Milo’s work commitments I guess rescheduling would not have been an option but still, the golden rule is, if you are going to come back and recapture hearts and minds that have waited that long for a show, then at least turn up and do it knowing you have a fair chance of pulling it off rather than gambling on the fact that the crowd that had paid £20 a ticket could feel Sour Grapes. But if your glass was half full at this show then you would know that tonight the Descendents were definitely, “the proud, the few” for the effort, and certainly not “rockin’ alone tonight”.

Zac