Sobriquet 18.6: Social Distortion Live in Johnson City, NY

Social Distortion/Lost City Angels/The Eyeliners
Johnson City, NY
May 12, 2005

Ten years ago, I attended my first-ever punk show with my then soon-to-be roommate at First Avenue in Minneapolis. D-Generation opened for Social D, but I was too interested in the whole aura of the experience to care much about the former’s set. I was the bright-eyed punk rock kid who, having grown up about as far from a city with good venues as possible south of Nunavut, couldn’t contain his excitement enough to focus on anything.

I was impressed by the older fans, the wizened thiry- and forty-somethings dressed normally, but looking out of true-blue punk rock eyes; I was annoyed by the drunk kids making punk rock stereotypes plausible; I was a bit chagrined by the frat kids who’d heard “Don’t Drag Me Down” on a friend’s mix tape beside other radio-friendly alt-rock stuff; I was thrilled by the world of punk rock pixie girls; I was happy to see kids wearing shirts with the names of bands I actually could bear listening to.

So, I sort of forgot to care about the opening band.

Then Mike Ness came on stage and I saw the legendary Chuck Biscuits wearing a cowboy hat and I knew that finally I was being a punk, or so I thought.

You see, at the time I was busy trying to be a punk rocker. For some reason I felt this need to prove (I am not entirely certain to whom…) that I was punk. You know, despite the long hair (which, if I really wanted to justify my appearance, did sort of resemble Joey Ramone’s mane…and, you know, he’s got punk cred…) and the genuine love of the music.


But like a lot of kids, I had found something I genuinely enjoyed, a scene I truly found encouraging, all the while doubting my own place in said crowd. I just assumed everyone was more punk than I was, so I had to find a way to compensate.

And the funny thing is that I should have learned my lesson years before when I finally admitted to myself that I was anything but an athlete. See, as a kid I did some stupid things and one of the stupid things I did was assume that an individual had to have favorites. You had to have a favorite color, book, movie, sport, and I chose baseball. Seriously, my thought process was actually “I have to find something I like. Kids at school like sports. If I liked sports, too, I can make friends,” which, of course, I have pitifully few of (until I realized later on that I actually had better friends than the people I thought had friends). So I up and decided to get into baseball.

The only problem was that instead of basing my decision on a natural inclination or some preternatural ability. No, I was simply going to like something and be good at it. So, like any true athlete, I picked up any book I could find on baseball and read and read.

Needless to say, I made Bob Ueker look like Ted Williams in the batter’s box.

And I stupidly did this with other things, too. I wanted to believe in God like everybody else, so I tried to believe in God, which didn’t really work all that well towards convincing me that there was a divine plan for me up there in the heavens. See, then I applied it to music. I simply had to have a favorite band. At one point, I liked a Garth Brooks song, so I decided that I liked country music. That didn’t work out. Then Naughty By Nature came along and I spent an afternoon thinking I liked rap. Then Nirvana came along and I decided I liked that band.

Then I listened to the Sex Pistols and Frankenchrist…and uh-oh, I hit on something. I really did like this stuff. I didn’t have to try. What a revelation for a fourteen-year-old, or whatever I was. Anyway, so after I discovered that I actually liked something, I decided to apply the same idiotic approach to my new interest that I had loosed upon everything else. I liked punk, so I had to like all punk, particularly the obscure bands that positively no one had ever heard of. You know, that would make me authentic or something now that punk’s heyday was a decade in the past.

The shame being, of course, that I tainted my own enjoyment of something by doubting my own interest enough to trust my tastes.

Still, by the time I made it to Social D, I stopped calling myself a punk, but still sort of tried to be one. Anyway, so I went to the show to go to a show more than to see a specific band. Social D just happened to play on a day I could make it up to the Twin Cities and I did like “Prison Bound” a lot. So I went. And I loved it. The band was great live and the atmosphere was wonderful.

Then I started listening to Social Distortion pretty much ad nauseam. There was a time when all I did was listen to White Light, White Heat, White Trash and Screeching Weasel’s Anthem for a New Tomorrow. It wasn’t until yesterday night (well, it’s early in the AM, so two days ago, technically), though, that I actually got to attend a Social Distortion show for the right reasons. You know, to see a band I really liked.

What’s more, had I not been such an idiot when I was younger, I wouldn’t have enjoyed the show as much, methinks. See, Social Distortion is all about lead singer Mike Ness’s acceptance of his own youthful foolishness as he grows older. How ironic, huh?

What I missed the first time ’round was the meat of Ness’s lyrics. Most of Social Distortion’s music meditates, in one way or another, on the old maxim “I wish I knew then what I know now”. See “Crown of Thorns.” The lyric actually appears in the song, sounding as fresh as if Rod Stewart hadn’t been singing it as he kicked soccer balls into Wembley crowds for the last quarter century. So, listening to “Prison Bound” or “Story of My Life” rings a bit truer to me today as I look back at my first Social D show.

In any case, the show was pretty good. My friend and I missed the most of The Eyeliners set, but what we caught wasn’t bad at all. Save for the rather trite “be yourself” and “rebel” message the songs seemed to have, the music was good. The girls in the band appeared to really enjoy performing and to genuinely appreciate the crowd. I wished I had seen more.

The second band, the Lost City Angels, were really good at what they played. Namely, they were wonderful at playing utterly mediocre, uninspiring run-of-the-mill Brit-punk. That they were from Boston and had a lead singer who sounded like Andrew W.K. didn’t help much towards making them sound anything but derivative. The set was peppered with “fucking” to the point where it became a joke. Everything the vocalist said was modified in some way by the term. There was “fucking music” and “fucking touring” and “fucking shit going fucking wrong.”

In other words, the Angels were fucking boring. Like I always say, if you’re not Sham-69, don’t act like you’re Sham-69.

Social D, though, were really great. The band, which now consists of Mike Ness and three non-original members, sound pretty much the same live as they do on record, which is very rare indeed. I mean, save for the Mr. T. Experience who, in my opinion, are unbearably saccharine on record but quite good live, I’ve not seen a band as musically good live. Others, of course, make up with showmanship for what they lose aurally, but Social D can hold its own.

The venue, the Magic City Music Hall, is actually quite nice, though a strange place for a band like Social D to open a tour. It’s got a vaguely northwestern feel, with stripped log railings and the like. Not quite the set for a wintery Juicy Fruit commercial, but oddly Three’s Company go skiing nonetheless. Still, it was nice.

Like a lot of venues, the MCMH is a bit annoying in terms of ostentation. Billing itself “A Genuine Music Joint” (as opposed to what, a Spike Lee joint? Or an artificial music joint? Anyway…), the MCMH proudly displays autographed publicity shots of David Copperfield, Milli Vanilli, Chicago, and sundry other name acts. That and the obscenely overpriced soft drinks ($2.50 for a small plastic cup of ice and watery cola) remind you that you are not in a punk club. Then there are the bouncers, which I have never seen at a punk show in my life. These burly, tattooed guys leaning over—get this—a barrier separating the band from the adoring masses basically picked up the obnoxious crowd surfers and carried them to a place where they could be lifted again. That and yell at people for taking pictures or smoking.

In any case, the music was good. I particularly enjoyed watching Ness make odd, almost meditative faces as he played. He’s a good performer, too. Unlike his predecessor, for instance, Ness’s “fuckings” were placed at reasonable intervals throughout his speech. What was cool about the set was that Social D tried to play old standards like “Another State of Mind” and “Prison Bound” while still promoting their new album, “Sex, Love, and Rock and Roll.” Oftentimes bands neglect the fan favorites, leaning heavily on new material, but Ness seemed pretty content playing a balanced set.

All-in-all, it was a show I would pay to see again, even at the very un-punk price of thirty clams. See, being there made me miss the friends I used to go to shows with and made me feel like starting a band and rejoining the show-going crowd. To me, that’s the sign of a pretty damn solid act.



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