Social Distortion ring leader Mike Ness puts the hammer down.
Mike Ness may never make it to the rock and roll hall of fame, and while he just assume be in the country hall of fame, maybe he should one day be in both.
If there has been one rocker who has lived the songs he sings about – heartbreak, drug addiction, regret and redemption on his own term – it is Ness.
The 48-year-old punk veteran has persevered through heaven and hell and is still standing with a Gibson Les Paul Deluxe in hand. He should be credited with fearlessly melding classic country music with punk attitude and sweet reckless rock and roll abandon. Not bad for the sole surviving member of America’s longest standing punk band, Social Distortion.
Legends like Hank Williams, Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline owe a debt of thanks to Ness for it has been his unquenched thirst for blunt, in your face music that has stemmed the tie of the seemingly implausible hybrid of country and punk. This along with his influences of the Rolling Stones and The Clash has made for a solid, straight from the gut honest sound that has garnered not much acclaim, but a nation of loyal fans.
Never was that sentiment more felt than Sunday night at Cleveland’s House of Blues as the Ness-led Social Distortion put on a clinic before a sold-out crowd of teeming punks, young and old.
Touring in preparation for the much anticipated seventh and first album in more than six years, Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes
, (to be released in January on Epitaph Records), Social Distortion mixed a variety of songs from six of its seven studio efforts.
Johnny 2 Bags Wickersham
Joining Ness on stage were his latest Social D mates, guitarist Johnny “Two Bags” Wickersham, bass player Brent Harding, Drummer David Hidalgo Jr. and keyboardist Dan McGough.
Following inspirational roots rock sounds of Ness-hand-picked openers Frank Turner and Lucero, Ness hit the stage dressed to the nines or 13s. Replete in white dress shirt, gold dress slacks and suspenders, the bearded Ness looked part gambler, part bootlegger, part jazz legend.
Social Distortion rocked forth with a 100-minute set with a trio of hard-driving songs from its debut 1983 album, Mommy’s Little Monster
. Their renditions of “The Creeps”, “Another State of Mind” and the title track made it evident early on that while his hairline was receding, his energy-level was not.
He ripped through White Light, White Heat, White Trash
cuts “Don’t Drag Me Down”, “I Was Wrong” Through These Eyes” trading guitar licks with Wickersham. When Social D went into the toe-tapping countrified “Ball and Chain” from the 1990 eponymously titled album, the crowd went wild matching Ness lyric for lyric. In fact, aside from two new songs from the upcoming album, this crowd came with its D-game.
The two previewed songs from Hard Times
, “Still Alive” and “Bakersfield” further exemplified the continuing love Ness has for writing songs that showcase his country punk sound. Social Distortion wrapped up the regular set with a threesome of songs from the 1992 album Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell
with “King of Fools”, the single “When She Begins” and the Patsy Cline remake “Making Believe”.
The highlights of the five-song encore included the bio-song from the same named 1988 album, the lamentful “Prison Bound” and the finale Johnny Cash cover “Ring of Fire”. The place was up for grabs as the frenzy of fans could only be matched with Ness’s fury and fervor.
For Social Distortion much has changed over the past 32 years, with multiple line-up changes, much angst, and adversity. One thing, however, that has not is changed is Mike Ness never ceasing ability to wear his emotions on his sleeves and tattoos, and play American music with every inch of his being, from his much-travelled soles up to his rock and country soul.