It was appropriate that the T-shirt Social Distortion singer-guitarist Mike Ness wore at last night’s sold out show at House of Blues advertised the name of a boxing gym. With his hair slicked back, the heavily tattooed, broad-chested Ness looked a bit like Robert De Niro in Raging Bull
. And he moved with a boxer’s swagger too as he often sparred with the microphone, barking out vocals like some kind of enraged animal as he sauntered to the front of the stage with his guitar slung low on his hip to unleash some wicked solos. You can see a slideshow of photos from the concert here
Social D’s current tour marks the 25th anniversary of the band’s self-titled album. The disc was a big breakthrough for the band, and Ness admitted he didn’t know what to expect after he had written and recorded the songs for it. “They weren’t punk; they weren’t classic rock,” he told the audience during one of many moments when he reflected back on the band’s career. And yet despite the passage of time, you could tell the audience, which spun into a mosh pit as the band played the first track, “So Far Away,” still connected deeply with the tunes. And the band still played them with vigor, even though Ness is the only member of the group that actually played on the album.
Ness started “Story of My Life” off with a gritty blues guitar riff and then performed the ominous sounding “Drug Train” under dark red lights. The live versions of “Ball and Chain,” “She’s a Knockout” and “It Coulda Been Me” sounded as raw and powerful live as their studio counterparts. While the first ten songs of the 17-song set came fast and furious, Ness and Co. slowed things down for a cover of the Stones “Wild Horses” that wasn’t well-suited to Ness’ gruff voice. The Hank Williams tune “Alone and Forsaken” came off better but the shift in pace was still rather off-putting and drained the crowd’s enthusiasm.
The band got back on track for the encore which included “Don’t Drag Me Down,” a song that Ness explained was about racism (and how he wouldn’t tolerate it at a Social Distortion concert). The encore also included covers of the Johnny Cash tunes “Folsom Prison Blues” and “Ring of Fire.” Social D’s cover of “Ring of Fire” still resonated, in part because it bridged the gap between a country outlaw and one of punk rock’s greatest icons. It served as a fitting way to conclude the solid two-hour show.
Indie rockers Drag the River started off the night with a set of well-constructed, narrative-based tunes that never quite became anthems. Singer-guitarist Nikki Lane followed with a 45-minute of alt-country tunes that showed off her supple voice. Ultimately, however, her own material paled compared to the cover tunes she played by the likes of Buddy Miller and Bob Dylan.