Social Distortion plays the first of a two-night stint at the Commodore

Social Distortion at the Commodore Ballroom, 6/9/18

Social Distortion @ Commodore
Photos by Ryan Johnson

With a Saturday night full house, the room was hot and the air damp as Social Distortion walked onto the stage to the sounds of energetic cheers and applause. This was the first of a two night stint at the Commodore Ballroom, which was extended after the first night sold out shortly after tickets went on sale.

If you ignore a hiatus (or two), 2018 marks the 40th anniversary of Social Distortion. The band have had a seemingly ever-changing line-up to the point where frontman Mike Ness is the only original member. However, for the last 10 years, the line-up has remained relatively consistent and Social Distortion has announced that they are finally working on a follow up to 2011’s Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes.

When we spoke with Ness last week, he was gearing up for the Commodore shows, saying the iconic building was one of his favourite venues. On Saturday night, the stage was decorated with an array of whimsical items from police and street signs to a large dog statue. Each member of the band wore black, apart from Ness, who looked sharp at his 56 years, with a crisp white shirt, braces, and his signature slicked-back hair. He accessorized with a single rose on the head of his guitar.

Social Distortion @ The Commodore
Photo by Ryan Johnson

The set opened with “Reach for the Sky,” during which Ness stopped mid-way through to address an altercation at the front of the crowd. “Have a drink you fucking punk,” Ness jeered, seemingly aiming at one particular audience member before he added comments about how he would fuck the person in question. At this point there were a few laughs but plenty more confused expressions from the crowd before Ness and the band quickly slotted back into the song.

Even Social Distortion fans will admit that some of their music has the potential to sound “same-ey.” Ness’ raspy voice is what makes Social Distortion unique, he has a way of making a song still sound compelling even when it’s sung in seemingly unenthusiastic tones. This was evident as, a few songs in, Ness murmured his way through “She’s A Knockout.”

Despite the sticky temperature in the room, it took the crowd a number of songs to warm up. When the band finally decided to address the room fully, Ness appeared to awkwardly attempt to retract his earlier comments.

“I’m not really like that,” he announced. “I don’t wanna rape nobody.” He then attempted to make another cringe-worthy joke on the topic. He seemed oblivious to the fact that he was pissing off some of the audience as he continued to ramble – even when someone shouted that he should “stop talking and just fucking sing.”

Social Distortion @ The Commodore
Photo by Ryan Johnson

For a band that has been around for 40 years, their discography is relatively small. This made it easy for the setlist on the night to be packed with fan favourites such as “Mommy’s Little Monster,” “99 to Life” and “Another State of Mind.” Notably missing from the set was their popular track “Story of My Life” – perhaps a decision taken to sway fans into attending the second show as well?

“We want you all to know we haven’t just been sitting on our asses” explained Ness. He explained they’re working on a new record, and then asked the crowd to raise their hands if they had been recently broken up with. A small amount of people in the room obliged. Ness followed this up with a new song about a failed relationship, appropriately titled “Over You,” which seemed to go down well.

Social D closed the set with “Don’t Drag Me Down,” which Ness introduced by stating: “This isn’t a song about Trump… or is it?”

The band left and returned to the stage for their three-song encore. The night ended on a high note with a cover of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” which despite not being their own song, is arguably one of their most popular.

Saturday night’s crowd appeared to be having fun and, aside from the occasional cringe-worthy comment from Ness, the band put on a solid show. Let’s just hope he thinks before he speaks at future shows on this tour! It’s unlikely.

Social Distortion @ The Commodore
Photo by Ryan Johnson