Friday Night: Social Distortion At House Of Blues

Social Distortion House of Blues November 19, 2010

In its 30-year lifespan, the impact Social Distortion has had on its audience is easy to tell. Friday night at a packed House of Blues (more on that later), it was all right there on the crowd's faces during "Ball and Chain."

As Aftermath surveyed the sold-out room during the band's signature song, which came about halfway during the 90-minute main set, at a slower clip than on 1990's self-titled parent album, we saw a wide range of reactions. Some fans' lips were barely moving, reciting the lyrics like a private affirmation; others belted it out like they were alone in the shower; still others never broke eye contact with their neighbors while doing the same thing.

But each and every one, us included, knew all the words.

"Ball and Chain" has embedded itself so deeply that, although it was never a "hit" per se, for Social D's fans it's gone beyond even an anthem and become more of a creed or mantra. Front man Mike Ness' lyrics about lonely motel rooms, empty bottles of gin and watching the rope of your life fray until there are only one or two strands left, resonate more and more with each passing year, each subsequent tour.

For a band this seasoned and set in its ways (perhaps), survival is both its own reward and a theme that never grows stale, no matter how many songs it shows up in. Aftermath was still humming "Still Alive" - one of a handful of songs from Social D's forthcoming LP Hard Times & Nursery Rhymes - when they started "Ball and Chain," as a matter of fact.

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The balance of Friday's set, new songs like "Bakersfield" and old standbys like "Mommy's Little Monster," mirrored the '40s-era hot rod driven by the band's skeletal mascot on the backdrop behind Ness and company: Sleek, low to the ground and fine-tuned for maximum peformance. Looking fairly gangsterish himself, an amiable and chatty Ness had no trouble getting the crowd to help him out, whether he had to push the "Dallas might sing better/louder than you" button ("When She Begins") or not ("Sick Boys," "Don't Drag Me Down").

Social D may have lost a step or two since Mommy's Little Monster, but only a step or two. And if they are more punk rock in philosophy than velocity nowadays, their appetite for country music is only increasing. Ness announced that Hank Williams' "Alone and Forsaken" will be on Nursery Rhymes; live, it turned out to be another Molotov corn-liquor cocktail to go along with "Making Believe" - recorded by everyone from originator Jimmy Work in 1955 to Conway & Loretta; most successfully by Kitty Wells and Emmylou Harris - and Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire," which, as always, kicked like a lead-footed mule to close out the encore.

Now, a word about the crowd, and capacity. Yes, the show was crowded. Yes, it had been sold out for weeks. But was it oversold? Tough to say.

Some people have commented on HOB Houston's Facebook page that they thought so; a few added that they left early for that reason. But after a few rounds of human bumper cars, Aftermath was able to find a couple of seams in the crowd and watch almost the entire show in relative comfort and peace, so we're guessing it wasn't.

Also, HOB scans each ticket as the holder enters the venue, no matter its origin - guest list, will call, walk-up, whatever - and only prints up a finite number of tickets. Short of a fire marshal standing at the door with a clicker, there's probably no way to know for sure either way.

As Aftermath mentioned last week, we are especially sensitive to packed rooms. A show that's not oversold, but at or near capacity, could turn catastrophic if something were to happen, whether a fire or a fight that escalates enough that the panicked crowd starts scrambling for the exits.

Friday, the size of the crowd did make us a little nervous something like that could happen. But we were glad we never had to find out.

Personal Bias: The older we get, the more we like country music and the less we like punk rock. Social D is the exception that proves the rule - and vice versa, we suppose.

The Crowd: Er... full. (Perhaps we mentioned that.) And maybe a tattoo here or there. When Aftermath saw security break up a near-girlfight in front of the box office while Lucero was still playing, we thought we were in for another evening of Cult-style hijinks. But all in all, everyone turned out to be pretty chill - that we saw - an especially fortunate turn of events given the close quarters.

Overheard In the Crowd: "DUDE, I'M GETTIN' SOME BLOW!!!"

Random Notebook Dump: Their mutual affinity for Bobby Fuller's "I Fought the Law" aside, Aftermath has always thought Social Distortion could be the American analog to The Clash, with country standing in for reggae. We'd love to hear Social D do "Brand New Cadillac" someday.

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