Social Distortion at Cabooze Plaza, 7/2/13
Photo courtesy of the artist
Cabooze Plaza, Minneapolis
Tuesday, July 2, 2013
When Social Distortion took the stage, promptly on schedule on a perfect summer's eve, ringleader Mike Ness spoke fondly of Minneapolis. He reminisced, he told stories, he commented about how early it was in the evening -- and how quickly the show had to end due to curfew.
While the audience was gracious, they were clearly there for one act. An act that first came to Minneapolis in 1982, per Ness's dialogue, worried that there wouldn't be any good drugs in town. It was a night of looking back, not only through their discography, but via stories of recent visits to Minnesota highlighted by, perhaps Ness's finest quote of the night: "I don't know about you, but I got hillbilly relatives up in Be-mid-ji," delivering an awkward accent to the northern Minnesota burg.
The story of the night, though, was Ness, with guitarist Jonny "2 Bags" Wickersham taking second spotlight while bassist Brent Harding and drummer David Hidalgo mostly stood in the shadows. There was also organ on select songs, but one had to really watch the stage to talk note as he was tucked in the back corner beyond the sound board. Ultimately it was the Mike Ness show, which is not news to Social Distortion fans.
Ness delivered. While the Augsburg sign that lit the skyline behind the stage may have been out of place, the streams of power lines that defined the backdrop, like a Robert Crumb urban industrial gridwork, fit the tone perfectly. Known for his slurred, gravelly vocals, Ness remained on point with the recorded material, showing the weary voice that is the band's hallmark, layered atop a rockabilly-tinged punk rock and doused in pop melody.
It's generally too slow to work up the circle pits -- though many in the audience succeeded, and too heavy to bring out the lighter-holding make-out party crowd (though a few succeeded at the make-out part too). Over the course of the evening, the songs were performed almost to perfection. Ness speaks in that same tone as he sings, and it brings a vulnerability and heart that contrasts with the hard-edged, hard-luck stories at the lyrical core. When Ness shed his hat early on, revealing male pattern baldness and showing his age, it was symbolic of his opening himself to the audience, bringing the crowd beyond the loud guitars and pounding rhythm and into his world, displaying vulnerability beyond the outer core.
The set itself delivered the hits. For a band that's churned out seven records in approximately 35 years, the selection was heavy on the favorites. They hit "Ball & Chain" and "Story of My Life" early on, saving their well-known Johnny Cash cover for the final encore. The first closer, "Misery Loves Company" from Ness' solo album Cheating at Solitaire, came prior to a two-minute break that led into a rushed encore, as time was short leading up to the 10 p.m. cutoff. Even as the final notes "Ring of Fire" had rung through the streets and the lights buzzed on, signaling the time to disperse until, Ness promised, "I'll be back next year if you will."
On a night where time restrictions and weather influenced the overall experience, it wasn't just the sun that was shining. The long-running Social Distortion proved that not only can they write an anthem of the downtrodden, but they are also still fully invested in doing so, 35 years into the game. Yes, the set was a greatest hits selection, but there were no signs on the band being weary of their material, only the want to stay on stage and play just a little bit longer. Most of those in attendance are already planning for next year.
Critic's Bias: This was my first time seeing the band. Few others in the crowd seemed to be rookies.
The Crowd: Tattoos, beer bellies and a few tucked-in polo shirts. For the most part, something out of American Chopper.
Random notebook dump: "Here at the Caboose or wherever we are," Ness reflected early on.
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