Social Distortion w/The Whigs | 09.18.14

SocialD 75While it would be easy for me to bitch about the absence of bigger hits like “I Was Wrong,” and “Bad Luck,” I feel it would also be an unneeded slap in the band’s face.

SocialD 500

The Pageant, St. Louis

Being of a certain age, (ahem, early mid-40s) there are certain bands from my angst-filled youth that still excite me to this day. Social Distortion is one of those bands. Like most bands who hailed from Southern California, (i.e. The Descendents, Pennywise, Suicidal Tendencies) their straightforward, no nonsense punk rock served as the soundtrack to the time of my life that I refer to as “my alternative days.”

The last time I saw Social D was many moons ago at Mississippi Nights—think circa 1996. The band occupied the teeny tiny stage and slayed the crowd with their high-energy rock. I remember the drummer was so close to the PA system that he damaged his ears and left the stage while the leader of the band, Mike Ness, strolled around, playing bluesy guitar chords. The drummer eventually returned, and Ness rocked the crowd into a mosh pit of epic proportions. That was the night Social D was inducted into my own personal Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

On this tour, Social D brought along two opening acts, current Social D guitarist Jonny “2 Bags” and The Whigs. Yes, Jonny is pulling double duty serving as an opening act and as guitarist of Social D. That is so punk rock.

Jonny’s set was comprised of what I call Americana rock. Simplistic and organic in nature, each song was musically pleasing, but they all sounded very similar. Nothing really jumped out and grabbed my ear, but overall the set was enjoyable.

I did appreciate the number of interesting instruments they used throughout, but what was really missing was a drummer. At the beginning of the set, I thought Jonny’s speaking voice was more appealing than his gruff singing voice, but then after seven songs, his vocals caught my ear. I am intrigued by Jonny and will have to check out his album, Salvation Town.

Next up were The Whigs. As the trio took the stage I thought to myself, “The Whigs got jokes.” The drummer was decked out in a vintage tricorne hat and what appeared to be a full length velvet robe—both of which he ditched quickly—and the lead singer was wearing the American flag as a cape. I was instantly intrigued.

Their style of music is high-energy rock with a twinge of grunge. While I enjoyed their music, what I really fed off of was the energy of the band. The way lead singer, Parker Gispert, writhed around onstage took the group’s performance to the next level. Giving Gispert a run for his money was drummer, Julian Dorio. Dorio’s passion was overwhelming as he flung his gorgeous locks around while he gave the trio a kick in the ass with some brilliant drumming.

While the group was stimulating visually, their music was also equally infectious. While “Friday Night” and “Already Young” will for sure make it into my Spotify playlists, the real gem of the set was the inspired, “Staying Alive.” I was able to get lost in this song and was in music heaven—that is until the hipsters right in front of me felt the need to take a selfie. There’s nothing like the bright flash of a selfie to take you out of a moment.

That aside, The Whigs set was fantastic from start to finish and served as a prime example of what an opening act should be: entertaining, engaging, and passionate.

Now onto the main act, Social D. The stage was a hodgepodge of random items. There was an oversized dog statue, a traffic light, and a statue of a police officer. The front of the stage had three carpets and three mics.

As Mike Ness and company took the stage, the energy of the packed house swelled as the group launched into the instrumental, “Road Zombie.” From my perch of the upper level, I noticed a small mosh pit form. I was disappointed by the pit as it quickly dissipated after the first 30 seconds of each song. C’mon St. Louis, we can do better than that! Throw some elbows! Get those knees up! Don’t just push each other around and then water the pit down to just bumping into one another. I wish there were videos of my pit days from Kennedy’s as we worked ourselves up into a lather during The Nukes’ set. Now THAT was a mosh pit.

Song after song, Ness did manage to keep the energy up as he poured his heart and soul into each song. Here’s the thing about Mike Ness, while his voice may be a bit on the nasal side, it has character and passion both of which make me respond. The other thing about Ness which turns me on is how he performs. He has this tension in his face and neck that gives each song an emotional weight which in turn captivates me visually.

I suppose the other thing about Ness is his overabundance of masculinity. He kind of scares me, which also kind of excites me. I wouldn’t want to meet him in a dark alley, but then at the same time I would love to sit around with him and do shots of Jagger. He has that kind of dual machismo.

While he tore through numbers like “Don’t Drag Me Down,” The Creeps” and “Cold Feelings,” I was impressed at how timeless Social D’s songs have become. This just goes to prove that when a band does their own thing and not play into trends, their songs do hold up over time. That being said, I felt the performance of “Crown of Thorns” did cause the energy to drop. But things picked back up with a very impressive performance of “Gimme the Sweet and Lowdown.”

While Social D is primarily a punk rock band at heart, they have some soul as well. Right before they played “Dear Lover,” the band launched into a bluesy-rock number that spoke to me musically. And for the record, if “Dear Lover” is not in your musical collection you need to have your head checked. Ness’ passionate vocals ripped out my heart, and this was one of my favorite performances of the night.

Obliging the crowd with one of their biggest “hits,” Ness kicked off “Ball and Chain.” Really, St. Louis? You tried to mosh to this one? Shaking my head. As expected though, this was another highlight of the night. The group then wrapped up their main set with a cover of Hank William’s “Six More Miles” and another crowd favorite, “Story of My Life.”

Returning to the stage for the compulsory encore, the band jumped into one of my least favorite Social D songs, “Sometimes I Do.” The song just doesn’t do anything for me and the performance was just blah. Ness then highlighted his solo album, Cheating at Solitare, with the number, “Misery Loves Company.” The band closed out their encore with their legendary rendition of “Ring of Fire.”

While it would be easy for me to bitch about the absence of bigger hits like “I Was Wrong,” and “Bad Luck,” I feel it would also be an unneeded slap in the band’s face. Social D will always—and should—do what they want. They took the stage, rocked our asses off, and left us wanting for more. That my friends is the mark of a great rock band. Thank you for the last 30 years and here is to 30 more! Long live Social D! | Jim Ryan

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