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Social Distortion celebrates four decades together.
Social Distortion celebrates four decades together.
Jonathan Stark

Mutual Admiration: Punk Legends Social Distortion and Flogging Molly Share the Stage

When the names Social Distortion and Flogging Molly are mentioned in musical circles, they are spoken in rebellious reverence.

The two groups have thrived and persevered over the past few decades, one using a balls-to-the-walls ’50s rockabilly and country reinterpretation, and the other employing a more Celtic populistic folk-punk mix.

While Social Distortion are the veteran band, Flogging Molly have drawn a larger and more diverse fan base in recent years. When you put them together, you have one of the most anticipated punk tours slated over the past decade. And they’re saving the best for last; the final date of the tour takes place at Mesa Amphitheatre on Sunday, September 29.

This co-headliner tour is a rare chance for these bands from two separate eras to gain more of an affinity for each other and see how much they have in common. The two groups could not be more stoked to share a stage.

“I consider myself extremely lucky and extremely grateful,” acknowledges Social Distortion frontman Mike Ness.
“I was able to turn this into a career and not be a flash in the pan. There’s gonna be every-night fans of Flogging Molly that have never seen Social Distortion; they’ve heard of us, and vice versa.”

Ness is not a guy who throws plaudits out there. He could have picked any number of bands to play with, but he is truly excited to play with Flogging Molly.

“It’s just a great bill: people appreciating you, the simplicity of it, but also the diversity, and just the coolness of it,” adds Ness.

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Ness’ life has been a cautionary tale. Social Distortion are part of the original punk zeitgeist on the West Coast that exploded in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Throughout his 57 years on Earth, he has survived parental abandonment, drug and alcohol addiction, jail time, and the death of five bandmates.

Through it all, the high-energy group have cranked out seven legitimate and anthemic original albums, each one showing more musical growth than its predecessor.

The band’s 1983’s debut, Mommy’s Little Monster, set the tone for all the southern California punk bands with its rebellious attitude and power chord anthems. Their last album, 2011’s Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes, is chock-full of rock ’n’ roll tinged with the Stones’ R&B refinement and maturity to complement a history of Johnny Cash-inspired punk rock.

This year marks Social Distortion’s 40th anniversary, but Ness is showing no signs of slowing down. With guitarist Jonny “2 Bags” Wickersham, bass player Brent Harding, and drummer David Hidalgo Jr., the band have had to balance touring with creating new songs over time. Ness and the rest of the group are hoping to release new material next year; they’re testing a trove of originals out on the road.

“We still have to earn our money the old-fashioned way, and in between records, it’s a perfect opportunity to just go out there and first of all, find a band that has some things in common with the fans,” says Ness. “It’s kind of a perfect situation for us right now, in between records to go out and keep the profile up for the pre-album cycle.”

Flogging Molly are creating a network of fans worldwide like an Irish Punk United Nations.EXPAND
Flogging Molly are creating a network of fans worldwide like an Irish Punk United Nations.
Richie Smyth

For Flogging Molly bassist Nathen Maxwell, growing older means maturing. There is probably isn’t a modern-day musical group that spend more time out on the road. They’re creating a network of fans worldwide like an Irish Punk United Nations. They have six albums under their belts, all reaching the Billboard Hot 200, including 2002’s Drunken Lullabies and Float in 2008.

This year alone, Maxwell, frontman Dave King, violinist Bridget Regan, guitarist Dennis Casey, accordion man Matt Hensley, drummer Mike Alonso, and banjo player Spencer Swain have brought their brand of “shamrock and roll” on 100-plus dates, but no series of shows have meant more than sharing the stage with Social Distortion.

“I was over-the-moon excited,” Maxwell says. “I couldn’t believe it. I would just be super excited to share the stage with legends like Social Distortion.”

And like their co-headliners, Flogging Molly will soon be entering the studio for album seven. The rare pause is planned for later this year.

“It’s a catalyst to bring the whole band together, because every one of us lives in a different state, even a different country, with Dave and Bridget spending half of their time in Ireland,” says Maxwell. “So, getting all of us together is a big movement.”

For Maxwell, playing with his band family for over two decades has been a great place to be.

“We started like so many bands, playing small shows, playing bars, playing weddings, playing wakes. I’ll speak for myself: When I was a younger man, I think I was like a lot of young people to go through a lot of angst. I used to play from a place of pain and aggression. Really, I think over the years, with the help of the Flogging Molly family, I have been able to personally heal that in myself, and now play from a place of joy.”

Their last album, 2017’s Life Is Good, is steeped in modern-day working-class blues, but it could’ve been written in the ’60s with its unapologetic sociopolitical overtones.

“The irony is that we are working so hard and through all this tribulation, we’re keeping all of this positive mental attitude, and we’re saying, ‘Yeah, life is good,’” says Maxwell.

Flogging Molly and Social Distortion are scheduled to perform on Sunday, September 29, at Mesa Amphitheatre. Tickets are $49.50 to $149.50 via mesaamp.com.

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