Phoenix loves Social Distortion, and the band loves Phoenix, including not one but two stops on their most recent tour. Last night was business as usual: The band played a packed venue to a sea of drunk burly guys and tiny girls trying to make their way to the front as if their lives depended on it. Lost in the sea of circle pits and crowd surfers are a few young children whose parents were brave, or foolish, enough to bring them along.
That's how it's always been since the band formed in the late '70s. Okay, I wasn't alive then, so I can't justify that claim, but I can say that every Social D show I've been to in the past decade or so has panned out a little something like that.
Before the show, one of my friends insisted that this would be an easy review to write.
"SD? That's easy: 'The crowd was filled with pomade and Dickies work-shirts, rat rods filled the parking lots, Mike Ness sang 90 minutes of songs about hard luck' -- the end."
That wasn't far from the truth. The Marquee was filled retro folks who would have fit right in at a vintage car show, and Social D played a bunch of songs about misfortune. But Ness and company also managed to mix things up a bit.
Not surprisingly, Mike Ness took the stage wearing a fedora and a trenchcoat that he slowly removed, revealing a pair of white suspenders and a dressy black shirt, causing the girls to swoon and scream as the band opened with the familiar "Bad Luck."
Social D has been going strong for over three decades and probably will continue to tour once its members hit the walkers-and-wheelchairs stage of life. Through it all, the band still has a knack for stage presence, with Mike Ness raising eyebrows and dipping his guitar into the crowd at key moments.
The band played a few tracks from its latest album, Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes and favorites you'll hear at just about every Social D show- "Story of My Life," "Sick Boy," "Ring of Fire," etc., even if the set was a little low on the White Light White Heat White Trash side of things. No bother, the band played plenty of songs from its self-titled record to make up for it.
Ness walked us through his musical roots. "The music that shaped Social Distortion: When I was 17, I was a punk rocker. It was The Clash, The Pistols, Generation X, Johnny Thunders . . . but long before I ever heard those bands, I used to listen to music as a little boy. At 5 years old, I don't know if I had any talent or not, but I knew I wanted to do this," said Ness reminiscing about the country and blues records his parents played.
He decided to play a Carl Perkins cover because he feels "very strongly about racism in 2012," and received a bunch of cheers. Let's be honest, most fans probably had no idea who Carl Perkins was and were only cheering because Mike Ness isn't into racism.
The band brought out an upright bass and an accordion to play Perkins' "Let the Jukebox Keep on Playing," which was followed by a twangy cover of "The Last Time" by The Rolling Stones.
Social Distortion put on a good show, even if some songs on their setlist were a little odd. The band seemed to focus on their drawn-out, repetitive songs like "Sometimes I Do" and "Drug Train," but ended things on a positive note with a very rock 'n roll version of Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire."
Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls once again opened for Social D and played an energetic set, much like last year's Rhythm Room performance. The group opened with "Eulogy" and a surprising number of people sang along and held up drinks when the song prompted them to do so.
Turner told another great story about his grandma while introducing "Peggy Sang the Blues." When he was 10 years old, his grandma was winning a card game that she really didn't want to lose, so she asked Frank if he had ever had whiskey. He said, "Fuck no, I'm 10!" and ended up having his first drink, causing him to lose the game.
For "Dan's Song," Turner invited a young boy named Jimmy on stage to play harmonica, and he ended up doing a pretty good job. The band played a new song called "Four Simple Words" that started slow and acoustic, then escalated to a raucous electric chorus.
Social Distortion Setlist: 1. Bad Luck 2. So Far Away 3. Story of my Life 4. Machine Gun Blues 5. Sick Boy 6. Telling Them 7. Bakersfield 8. Gimme the Sweet and Low Down 9. Dear Lover 10. Sometimes I Do 11. Nickels & Dimes Encore 12. Far Behind 13. Winners and Losers 14. Reach for the Sky 15. Let the Jukebox Keep on Playing (Carl Perkins cover) 16. The Last Time (Rolling Stones cover) 17. Drug Train 18. Ring of Fire (Johnny Cash cover)
Frank Turner Setlist: 1. Eulogy 2. Try This at Home 3. If I Ever Stray 4. Peggy Sang the Blues 5. I Am Disappeared 6. Love, Ire, and Song 7. Dan's Song 8. Four Simple Words 9. I Still Believe 10. The Road 11. Photosynthesis
Last Night: Social Distortion at Marquee Theatre.
Personal Bias: I've been harboring a little bit of a grudge against Social D ever since some guy headbutted me and gave me a concussion at a show a few years ago, but I still enjoy a Social D song every so often.
The Crowd: Greasers, punks, bros. Standard Social D fare with the exception of a guy that looked just like Heroin Bob from SLC Punk.
Overheard in the Crowd: "I'm seeing some pretty scary-looking criminals out there . . . and they're not all women, either" --Mike Ness.
Random Notebook Dump: Social D's stage looks like a dream come true for the Storage Wars folk.