Social Distortion: 8 June 2009 - Paris

On record, it's great, but live, at least this time, it seemed lacking in vigor.

Social Distortion

Social Distortion

City: Paris
Venue: Bataclan
Date: 2009-06-08

I first got into Social Distortion in the late ‘90s while living in Chicago, not through a purist punk rock crowd, but through an alt/insurgent country show I put on there. Following this, I quickly came to like the more rockin’ stuff off of 1983's Mommy's Little Monster as much as the band’s love of classic country showcased in songs like "Ball and Chain" and covers such as "Big Iron" on 1999's Under the Influences and Cheating at Solitaire, both released as solo albums by frontman Mike Ness. I've never thought Ness was a wordsmith, but I've always appreciated his talent for writing melodic songs with a social edginess to them (in the tradition of Johnny Cash but with a shot -- no more -- of punk), enriched by his steel wool vocals. The line of songs from "Sick Boys" to "Born to Lose" and "I Wasn't Born to Follow" form a consistent identification with those folks who are down on their luck, born on the wrong side of the tracks, or wake up on the wrong side of the bed. Indeed, Ness has been a kind of punk "Man in Black" ever since Social Distortion set out their rootsy stall in the Los Angeles hardcore wilderness in 1983 and subsequently became the inspiration for thousands of burgeoning punk bands. I have great respect for this band and its frontman, and so I awaited this concert with much anticipation.

The Bataclan is a medium-to-big old theater, holding about 1,500 people, probably 800 of which were on the ground floor, below sea level, so to speak, from the stage for this show. Because it's big, and flat, it's very hard to see the stage unless you're right in front of it. I honestly don't like the venue at all. Tickets for the show were not outrageous at 28 Euros. But once inside, I found that there was no air: No air conditioning, no fans, certainly no windows -- no air whatsoever. People looked like they had been working out, or moshing, before the show even began, sweat cascading down cheeks, beads dropping from all the black T-shirts and glistening tattoo-ed arms and legs, onto the floor where they brewed with the slopped, over-priced beer. Everyone was maneuvering for drinks around the small bar, but they didn't serve pints. In fact, by American standards they offered what looked like Dixie cups of low-grade pilsner for 6 Euros. I was beginning to worry about this unfolding concert experience.

On my quest for a view of the stage, I passed the merchandise stand, and considered getting a T-shirt. I've always loved the Social Distortion logo --- a skeleton clutching a martini. However, I was astounded to find that the band was charging sixty Euros (about $85) a pop for those things! They may sing about the tough life, but they sure aren't selling T-shirts to people who live paycheck to paycheck. I'm not challenging Ness's tough street cred (he was kicked out of his parent's home at age 15 and struggled with drug addiction). I also realize the business is complicated and Ness is forty-seven without a pension, but this just seemed a bit much for a band that lathers itself in working class imagery.

The place was packed, and my friend and I gave up trying to muscle our way to the front after finally getting our refreshments. We opted for a side view, getting a spot fairly close to the stage, but one that sacrificed a view of the bassist for most of the show, even if we had a clean shot at Ness. Social Distortion blasted off the set with "The Creeps", taking us back to their 1983 origins. The song, like so many to follow, was competent, but seemed to lack energy and a little TLC. It set the tone for a very good but mechanical set. Maybe Ness and Co. were hot and tired. Ness didn't say much in between songs. I have no idea how representative of their usual shows this really was, but when he said he saw "a lot of criminals out there" who looked "like they should be in prison,” it just fell flat, and not just because most of the French-speaking audience didn't understand him. In fact, they seemed to like him more when he spoke because they gave him the linguistic benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately, I got every word, and I'd preferred he just taciturnly rocked out.

But they didn't really rock, not that this is a band that really runs with the punk horses anyway. Ness writes good, catchy, twangy but fuzzy, dark songs and delivers them in a gruff tone of perpetual sore throat. On record, it's great. But live, at least this time, it seemed lacking in vigor. I wanted to sit down (but to be fair, I also wanted some air and a pint of non-French beer). My reaction was not shared by a lot of the other audience members, who seemed thrilled to bask in the shadow of the Social Distortion pedestal. I can't blame them. The music was good. But the performance added little to the recordings I enjoy hearing in a less sauna-like ambience.

The band drove through their classics, including "Mommy's Little Monster", "Ball and Chain", and "Sick Boys", coming back for a competent-to-the-end three-song encore that included a catchy, relatively new song, "Still Alive". It's a good pop song made typically edgy by Ness’ vocals. They rounded out the encore with "Prison Bound" and "Story of My Life". Though Social Distortion emerged from the LA hardcore scene, this is not hardcore. These days they include a kind of E-Street band keyboard that gives it even more of a roots rock feel.

All this was fine, but next time I'm only going to see them if they play an air conditioned venue or somewhere with really big beers. I guess that means I should see them in Germany.

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less

It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

Keep reading... Show less

Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.