BERKELEY — As the banner at the back of the stage proclaimed, Social Distortion has been around for 40 years. Not 40 continuous years of course—they are a punk band so there have been haituses for rehab and jail time, breakups and reformations, and frontman Mike Ness is the only original member still with the band—but a very long time nonetheless.
All that experience did show in the polish of the material at the band’s show on Thursday at the Greek Theatre. Ness has been playing some of this material since he was 18. He told the story of writing “1945” in history class shortly before dropping out of continuation school to focus on his band. He sounded as well as in years past, and his band was sharp.
The ending that framed the show, however, was far from polished. Social D closed out with two of its biggest hits, “Ring of Fire” and “Story Of My Life.” Ness and company hadn’t played their highest-charting hit, “I Was Wrong,” or fan favorite “Ball and Chain,” which would have made for a great encore. But the encore never came. As the fans stood and cheered the house lights came on, then music was piped in, and slowly a confused crowd hesitantly trickled out.
Most of the crowd trickled out, that is. Nearly 10 minutes after the show ended, with workers in hard hats disassembling the stage, there was still a sizable contingent still cheering and occasionally chanting “ONE MORE SONG! ONE MORE SONG!”
That said, there was a quality show that satisfied fans of the band. From early songs like “1945” and “Prison Bound” to major label hits like “Bad Luck” and “Don’t Drag Me Down,” Social Distortion covered all the bases. The band even played a song, “Over You,” that’s not only unreleased but unrecorded. Ness said they’d be going into the studio to record their next album, with that song included, in January.
Well that was one of the more surreal things I’ve seen after a show. @SocialD1 didn’t do an encore, so this was the crowd almost ten minutes after the show ended. On stage is a bunch of dudes in hard hats disassembling everything. pic.twitter.com/L38NQMGlAz
— Daniel J. Willis (@BayAreaData) September 27, 2019
The other factor that didn’t do Social Distortion any favors was that their co-headliners, Flogging Molly, were a very hard act to follow. Their brand of singalong-friendly Celtic punk makes for a good show in the worst of circumstances but singer Dave King and his compatriots were on top of their game.
After opening with “Drunken Lullabies” and “The Hand of John L. Sullivan,” King told the crowd, “We’re gonna be doing some songs we haven’t done on the road in many years.”
To prove that point Flogging Molly launched into “Saints & Sinners” and “Float,” both singles and the latter an album’s title track but not among the band’s well-known fare. King then handed vocal duties to bassist Nathan Maxwell for “The Days We’ve Yet To Meet” and to violin player (and his wife) Bridget Regan for “A Prayer for Me in Silence.”
Between them, though, was “Tobacco Island,” a deep cut that epitomizes Flogging Molly’s appeal. With banjo and accordion wailing, King belting out lyrics with the cadence of an Irish drinking song, distorted guitars adding a punk rock vibe, it gave the venue the feel of an Irish pub.
The band closed out its set with early hit “The Seven Deadly Sins” as well as “If I Ever Leave This World Alive,” which, if not stopping the mosh pit entire, made fans slow down a bit to sing along.
When Santa Cruz natives The Devil Makes Three took the stage and began playing fans seemed not quite sure what to make of the Americana- and bluegrass-leaning no-gimmicks rock band.
And they were amazing.
It took a while for the aging punk crowd to warm to them. Glances were exchanged before tentative shuffling, to make sure it was socially acceptable to be enjoying something so far off from what fans were there for. As much as punks like to act rebellious, even into middle age they don’t want to seem uncool in front of their friends.
But when The Devil Makes Three covered the first verse of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” as a bluegrass song, the dam broke and everyone gave in to their enjoyment. Even those in the front got into it, breaking into what can only be described as a combination mosh pit and hoedown. It has to be seen to be believed.
“I know in my heart of hearts that some of you are thinking, ‘I came here to see Social Distortion. Why am I hearing so much banjo music?’” singer Pete Bernhard said late int he set.
The reason, he explained, is because one of the most punk rock people in history was Johnny Cash. And the resulting cheer said there was no disagreement on that.
Le Butcherettes, a punk band from Mexico City via Los Angeles, opened the concert with a 40-minute set. Led by singer-keyboardist-guitarist Teri Gender Bender, the band was clearly talented, if aesthetically disjointed.
Three of the band members dressed in T-shirts and jeans, and played punk rock at a high level, especially drummer Alejandra Robles Luna. Gender Bender wore a bright red leotard, a strip of red face paint across her eyes, with vaguely Aztec accessories. Her vocals were somewhat reminiscent of Bjork and her jerky, flailing dancing wasn’t reminiscent of anything.
And yet it all worked. In any other genre that level of tonal inconsistency could be fatal, but for a punk band it made perfect sense. What could be more punk than not even conforming to yourself?
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Follow editor Daniel J. Willis at Twitter.com/BayAreaData.