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