Social Distortion in Portland, OR

Concert Review: Social Distortion Keeps it Real in Portland

Three weeks ago “Mommy’s Little Monster” emanated from the radio – no not terrestrial radio, you need Sirius for vintage old school rock especially punk rock – and I couldn’t remember the last time I heard the song, at least not when prompted by my hands.

But most notably, Social Distortion had not included this classic into their live set in quite some time.

Until Wednesday night. Indeed, Social Distortion played a 16 song set just shy of 90 minutes to a sold out Roseland Theater crowd in Portland, OR, the first of two scheduled dates, that featured two new songs, two old songs, two Johnny Cash songs, and two of their most popular songs left off the setlist. Leave it to a reigning father of the 80s punk rock scene to go his own way.

Dang was it loud, too. Reminiscent of the early years, the Crawford Hall days at UC Irvine, when you couldn’t hear yourself think. But the opening chords. Was it really going to get played? Alas, “Moral Threat,” at least that’s what it sounded like, quickly dissolved into “Reach for the Sky” and Social Distortion was off and blaring.

Mike Ness of Social Distortion performing at Roseland Theater
Mike Ness of Social Distortion

This time, however, you could tell rather quickly the song, unlike that college gym performance so many years ago when half a minute passed before the melody eked through the distortion. Singer and band founder Mike Ness strained to rise above the guitars and drums which in some respects served to harness his patented growl but no way this would last all evening. “Highway 101” helped simmer the noise down a bit but David Hildalgo Jr.’s drums during “Don’t Take Me for Granted” proved overwhelming enough that Ness motioned to a stage hand to knock them down a bit. “She’s a Knockout” off their eponymous and pinnacle album from 1990 followed and finally the equalizer had things figured out by “I was Wrong.”

Then came “Mommy’s Little Monster” the title track off one of the great pioneering punk albums from the 1980s and then another, off the front side of the same record as “Another State of Mind” kept the mosh pit flowing. The evening was turning into a vintage Social D performance – loud, proud and quite biting.

Mike Ness playing guitar in Portland
Mike Ness on guitar

Ness tapped into the band’s “latest” album – now seven years old – for the first time with “Machine Gun Blues” and then some classic punk rebuke as he dedicated the new song “Over You” to those fans enduring a bad relational break-up. A great song no less after just a listen with a well-constructed guitar solo. Afterwards, he asked the crowd if they wanted to hear an angry song and then ripped into the overlooked and so relatable “Far Behind” (I can dedicate that to a number of people) a sneaker song on the Greatest Hits compilation from 2007 that made this Best of List.

Ness indicated some marital trouble last year in a documentary and perhaps the new song reflects the outcome of that situation. But the anger quickly turned mellow with the melodious, laid back chords of “California (Hustle and Flow)” the second and final song off Hard Times And Nursery Rhymes and the main set ended with what’s made regular live appearances in recent years with “Don’t Drag me Down.”

Social Distortion encored with a second new song Ness did not introduce but probably holds the title “Bad Day,” yes it was pretty aggressive, then the deep album cut “Angel’s Wings” the final tract off Sex, Love And Rock ‘N’ Roll and the evening ended with Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” and “Ring of Fire.” Including last year’s tour, Social Distortion has debuted four new solid songs in the last year and a half of touring from a long time coming forthcoming album that was supposed to have seen plastic, it seems, years ago. No word on the progress but based on the cuts sounds like Social Distortion might have another gem on their hands whenever the album gets released.

Mike Ness of Social Distortion
Mike Ness talks to the crowd

Overall, an interesting set, no doubt, and in many respects quite original and trend bucking. Left off: “Story of my Life” and “Ball and Chain” arguably the two most popular songs in their catalogue and certainly the two that garner regular radio airplay today. And while missed, along with some other fan favorites and live staples, Ness tapping into the band’s start, paying homage to an influence and letting everyone know they have songs in the tank bordered on brilliance. Once the techs ironed out the earsplitting sound issues – don’t misunderstand it was still quite deafening but at least Ness could dial back on his vocals and the melodies protruded through – the evening, while quite brisk, offered a near flawless performance, not so much vintage though could have really enjoyed hearing “Moral Threat” (someday maybe), but a current show that keeps the band relevant.

Social Distortion 2018 Tour Setlist at Roseland Theater in Portland:

  1. Reach for the Sky
  2. Highway 101
  3. Don’t Take Me for Granted
  4. She’s a Knock Out
  5. I Was Wrong
  6. Mommy’s Little Monster
  7. Another State of Mind
  8. Machine Gun Blues
  9. Over You (new song)
  10. Far Behind
  11. California (Hustle and Flow)
  12. Don’t Drag Me Down
  13. Bad Day (new song)
  14. Angel’s Wings
  15. Folsom Prison Blues
  16. Ring of Fire