An '80s punk show in a burned-out dive bar in East L.A.
Some genres are built for longevity, but you wouldn't think punk rock would be one of 'em. The hard-charging energy, the Sid Vicious self-destruction, the mohawks (which really need a full head of hair). Punk is a young man's game, right?
Don't tell Mike Ness. The OG of SoCal punk put on a raucous set at the Fillmore last night, looking every bit the same menacing, gravel-voiced crooner that once bowed out of the scene for a year to deal with his drug addictions.
But before Social D brought a packed house of black-clad punks to their feet, Brit folk-punk act Frank Turner took the stage around 8:15 and got the initially spare crowd riled up with a quick but foot-stomping set. Big props to any opening act that wills the Fillmore into a full-throated sing-along to a song most in attendance obviously didn't know, as Turner did (with a little spirited coaching) on his closer.
Lucero, an alt-country, punk crossover with a horn section followed with a surprisingly lengthy set a half hour later. The band had some testy mixing to start -- not a surprise, probably, when you've got a big-voiced lead singer, a steel guitar, a keyboard, two electrics and a bass, plus a sax and trumpet to blend together.
Once the levels were set, though, the Memphis act proved a fitting opener for an act known for splicing rockabillly with rock'n'roll. Front-man Ben Nichols' smokey tones nicely foreshadowed Ness' legendary pipes.
And about those pipes: Ness sounds fantastic. Social D has always been a band built around its world-class singer, and -- looking badass in a fedora and white suspenders -- the 48-year-old (and only remaining original band member) brought the goods.
In a wide-ranging set hitting the high points of a three-decade career -- from opener "The Creeps" from Mommy's Little Monster to "So Far Away" to mid-90s radio hit "I Was Wrong" -- the crowd (which came pretty close to filling the Fillmore by the time Social D appeared) moshed and surfed while Ness never missed a sandpaper note.
He also gave some truly great shout-outs, like this one to Hank Williams: "I guarantee you, without him, there'd be no Sid Vicious. You put him in a room with another guy, only one man is walking out, and that's Hank Williams."
And in a fitting closer, the man in a black t-shirt and white suspenders brought it on his ode to the Man in Black, stirring up a serious circle pit with "Ring of Fire."
Personal Bias: It's impossible to hear the catch in Ness's voice and not jump back to high school punk shows at the Creepy Crawl and the Galaxy in St. Louis.
The Crowd: Aging punks, heavily tattooed bikers, and blissfully free of hipsters.
Overheard in the Crowd: "They look like a biker gang with a horn section," when Lucero kicked out its first song.
Social Distortion's Setlist:
-"Mommy's Little Monster"
-"Don't Drag Me Down"
-"Bye Bye Baby"
-"I Was Wrong"
-"Ball & Chain"
-"Through These Eyes"
-"Alone and Forsaken"
-"When She Begins"
-"So Far Away"
-"Down Here With The Rest Of Us"
-"Ring of Fire"