Social Distortion – Dublin – live review

Social Distortion
Academy, Dublin
21 August 2012

Live review

The long-standing Social Distortion get a warm welcome as they play Ireland for the first time in their career.

Social Distortion play their first Irish date on Joe Strummer‘s 60th Birthday. Considering their decades long existence, its amazing that tonight is Social Distortion‘s first ever Irish date.

It’s part of a pretty extensive European Tour that begun in the UK, and took in several other European countries. They head back to the UK for an appearance at the Reading and Leeds festivals and then it’s back around Europe for another couple of dates, before heading home.

Support tonight comes from Dave Hause lead singer of punk rock band The Loved Ones. Clutching just an electric guitar he is unaccompanied. He manages to compensate for the lack of band with passionate delivery, and great on stage presence.

He commands the crowd with an electric guitar much the same way Billy Bragg can. Like Billy, he’s a Strummer fan, and tonight he pays tribute to Joe several times. Social Distortion get the fan boy nod too, when he confesses to the privilege of supporting one of his favourite bands on Joe Strummer’s Birthday. The Strummer influence is apparent in the delivery, if not in the voice, which is very much in the American punk rock tradition.

Tonight maybe Social Distortion’s debut on an Irish stage, but Hause was here just a few months ago. It becomes apparent why so many are here early for the support, as several of those that were in attendance last time are back again tonight. It’s not just the songs from the Loved Ones that have the crowd singing along, plenty are familiar with the solo stuff too.

Hause is a really enthusiastic performer, and has a great deal of charm. This not just apparent from the emotive way he acknowledges Joe’s birthday, or his love for Social D, but from his quick rapport with the audience. He catches a girl on her mobile and he wants to know who she’s talking too. He requests that the phone be handed up to him. She obliges. He places the phone on stage ensuring who’s ever on the receiving end gets a good earful of his performance. The phone user is a good sport, and allows Dave to throw the phone back into the audience, promising he’d buy a new one if he breaks it.

Having begun to a sizeable crowd, the venue steadily fills up as he plays, and the audience are quick to warm to him. ‘Pray For Tucson’ from his debut solo album sounds great, as does new song New song, ‘Autism Vacine Blues’, on which Hause sounds Sprinsteenesque singing about debt collectors that wont leave him alone. The Loved Ones ‘Jane’ has the crowd singing along, “tonight, tonight, alright, alright!” and shouting out the great line “but I’ve got this guitar and I can barely play” He plays another Loved One’s track ‘100k’, and Joe’s birthday celebrations manifest when it morphs into Joe’s ode to Glastonbury ‘Coma Girl’, a song the Loved Ones recorded for their ‘Distractions’ EP’ He finishes with ‘Resolutions’ the title track from his debut album, and it’s obvious by the reception that Hause will definitely draw a few more bodies when he swings round this way again.

With the exception of two brief hiatuses, Social D have been going for thirty odd years. Beginning in the seventies, the current line up features only one original member, lead man Mike Ness. The band have gone through lots of changes over the years, and the band tonight have been playing together since 2010.

Maybe it’s his reputation for a being tough uncompromising character but I thought Mike Ness would be taller. He’s the last member to take to the stage, and as is customary for the front man, gets the biggest cheer from the crowd. Its a warm welcome from an audience who have waited a long time to see him. Gripping his guitar with purpose, he cuts a powerful presence on stage.

Social Distortion’s music has evolved, and changed over the years, gradually blending country and american roots music into the music of their punk beginnings. They’re development may have alienated a some fans in the earlier days, but they have been on this trajectory of blending punk, country and blues influences for a long time now. Looking around tonight, it”s clear they kept a lot of those early fans, as well as gaining some new ones while they did. Old school punks rub shoulders with the younger fashion conscious backward cap wearing contingent. It’s the band’s defiant insistence in evolving, and playing the way they want to, that has allowed the band to endure for so long. They might play as fast as they did on debut ‘Mommy’s Little Monster’, but they still sound vital.

They kick off with gusto on ‘I was wrong’ from ‘White Light, White Heat, White Trash’, quickly followed by ‘So far Away’ from their self titled third album. ‘Bad Luck’ from early nineties album ‘Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell.

The band are energetic, intertwining styles seamlessly, maintaining their own instantly recognizable stamp. It’s rock n’ roll, and country, but by playing the way they want too, it always remains punk rock. Mike apologizes for how long it took them to get here, but by way of an excuse acknowledges it took them some years to visit any where in Europe.

Last year’s ‘Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes’ is the album that has garnered them their highest chart position in their long career, and likely introduced them to whole range of young new fans, giving the band their first ever US top 10. From it tonight, we get single ‘Machine Gun Blues’, and later the bluesy ‘Bakersfield’ is followed by riff heavy, hard driving ‘Gimme the Sweet and Lowdown’

Like Dave Hause earlier, they dedicate a song to Joe Strummer, and a few in the crowd expect to hear the Clash’s ‘Death or Glory’ something they’re known for doing. It’s an intro to their own excellent ‘Sick Boys’ the second track taken from their third album tonight. Joe’s 60th birthday makes this a special night, but when there is such a great repertoire to choose from, an original is always a preference.

They deliver a flawless version of ‘Telling Them’ from their debut, the oldest track we hear tonight, and that’s superseded by ‘Cold Feelings’ from “Heaven and Hell”.

Later Mike Ness is looking for suggestions for the name of his autobiography, and It’s clear where his going with this. Despite various suggestions from the audience, the title would obviously be ‘Story of my Life’. The band stomp though a powerful version of Mike Ness’s anthem about growing up, trying to fit in, how life moves fast and things change, and how ultimately learn from the mistakes we make. The track packs an emotional punch and resonates with the crowd. Mike’s songs are always pretty autobiographical but ‘Story of My Life’ is a book I’d like to read.

Mike refers to ‘Sometimes I do’ as an Irish song, and with it’s singalong chorus of “sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t” being shouted by an enthusiastic Irish crowd, it sounds like it could be one. Before leaving the stage, they make a false start on ‘Nickels and Dimes’, stopping when Mike “isn’t feeling it”. They begin again quickly and tear through a blinding version of the track, leaving the stage to rapturous applause.

They don’t delay returning, and fly through a lengthy encore. Stone cold classics, ‘Dear Lover’, and ‘Reach For the Sky’ sound staggering, and ‘Ball and Chain’ sounds as immense as it does on their ‘Live from the Roxy’

Their second to last song was recorded for their greatest hits album a few years back, a song for those who talk about others because of their own insecurities, as Mike says by way of introduction to ‘Far Behind’ “He who laughs last, laughs best,” It sounds great, and is the final Social D penned number of the night.

They finish up with some Johnny Cash, but which one asks Mike? There is a few they could play. They begin with ‘Folsom Prison Blues’, and that blends into a rousing version of ‘Ring of Fire’, a track they managed to claim ownership over despite the original being so well known. It’s worth acknowledging too that they recorded it back in 1990, long before there was any Johnny Cash band wagon hoping. It’s the final song, and the fourth track they play tonight from their self titled album.

The set has taken in tracks from six of their seven albums, with the 1988’s ‘Prison Bound’ being the only one ignored. Expectations were high, and the band delivered. It was a nostalgic run through their back catalogue for an audience of mostly first timers. Hopefully they’ll be back this way again soon.

European Tour Dates

Aug 29: Zurich, SUI Komplex 457

Aug 31: Wiesen, AUT TWO DAYS A WEEK Festival

Sept 1: Konstanz, Ger Rock am See – News

Sept 2: Bologna, ITA @ I-Day Festival

All words by Ray Burke. You can read more from Ray on LTW here.

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