The more things change, the more Social Distortion stays the same. At least that’s the impression the band left last night at House of Blues for the first of two sold out shows. While singer-guitarist Mike Ness might have exchanged his wifebeater for a baggy suit and fedora that made him look like some kind of tattooed gangster, he still snarls with the best of them. He sounded particularly good on “I Was Wrong,” the confessional tune that the band played at the opening of the 90-minute show. While he had to have the song’s lyrics on stage with him just in case he forgot the words, Ness had no trouble delivering the song in all its ragged glory. The same went for “So Far Away” and “Bad Luck,” the next two songs he and his three piece band ripped through.
While Social D.’s rip-roaring anti-establishment anthems went over best with the audience, the set’s highlights were the songs that showed off the group’s rockabilly roots. “Bakersfield,” a tune about the desolate California town just north of L.A., had a certain eloquence to it and found the band turning the guitars down so Ness could make the line about walking out to a “lonely truck stop” really resonate. And the group almost sounded like a folk act on “Sometimes I Do,” a tune that Ness introduced by saying, “You don’t have to be Irish to like this next song, but it certainly helps.” The guys even brought out a stand-up bass for the Carl Perkins’ track “Let the Jukebox Keep on Playing” and stayed true to the song’s roots rock feel. Ness was in fine form throughout the night and regularly bantered with the audience as he recalled the band’s first show in Cleveland back in 1982. He said something disparaging about Cincinnati in the process, but no one seemed to take offense. The band left the best for last, delivering a raucous rendition of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” that sent the crowd into a frenzy.