The problem with doing a two- or three-night stand in one town when youíre a punk-rocking band like Social Distortion is that you run the risk of giving all the true believers in your audience a quick peek behind the veil of anti-showmanship "integrity" that remains part of the appeal of most punk-rocking bands. If Social D main man Mike Ness was even the least bit concerned about that on the bandís three-night romp through Boston last Friday (at Axis) and Saturday and Sunday (at the Paradise), he certainly didnít show it. In fact, just in case anyone was under the misapprehension that Ness is above scripting a Social D performance, he made it clear right off the bat that the tough-guy, hard-luck, drinkiní-and-dice shtick thatís been his main routine since the mid í80s extends as far as his stage patter, which was more or less the same on Friday and Saturday night. "Letís do this motherfucker!" he growled as the band kicked into their trademark overdriven cover of "Ring of Fire" at the start of the show on both nights. The performances continued to mirror each other from that point forward: "Story of My Life"; a new song from an album thatís set to come out in early 2002; a rousing "Bad Luck"; a slam-bang version of "Cold Feelings in the Night"; a raw-throated "Sick Boy"; a thrashing version of the bandís seminal punk classic, "Mommyís Little Monster"; and so on . . .
Not that thereís anything wrong with this. Indeed, itís good for people to realize that a punk-rock show can be every bit as choreographed as a Britney Spears or Madonna performance. And Social Distortion have never relied on anything resembling surprise or spontaneity. No, whatís great about Social D is that you know exactly what youíre going to get, show after show, album after album ó 1-4-5 meat-and-potatoes rock-and-roll songs that celebrate the bittersweet romanticism of being on the wrong side of a winning hand. The few new numbers the band sprinkled among old favorites like "Ball and Chain" and "Prison Bound" would have been right at home on any of their most recent albums. Hell, even the two solo discs Ness put out in í99 (the Time Bomb releases Cheating at Solitaire and Under the Influences) were basically Social D albums by any other name. (Why Ness didnít feel comfortable mixing a few more tunes from those discs into a Social Distortion set is a mystery.)
Of the two shows I saw, Saturdayís definitely won out, not because the band played noticeably better but because the Paradise sound system seemed much better equipped to handle Social Dís chunky soup of guitars than the one at Axis, where between songs you could distinctly hear Iggy Pop grinding it out next door at Avalon. Taciturn Ness was also a bit more talkative on Saturday: he jokingly referred to "Story of My Life" as one of "those Irish drinking songs" (which it kind of is) and, ever the literalist, went on to introduce "Prison Bound" by explaining, without a hint of irony, that heíd been "to the school of hard knocks." He even got a little political at the beginning of the bandís encore, pointing out that "Hitler was a punk ass motherfucker who couldnít even fight his own war" before promising that "weíre going to fuck that bin Laden motherfucker up bad!" I guess thatís what theyíre teaching at the school of hard knocks these days.
BY MATT ASHARE
Issue Date: November 15 - 22, 2001