Upon arriving at Social Distortion’s second sold out Salt Lake City show of the weekend, I quickly made my way to the upstairs bar. While night one had been a strictly 21+ show, the second night of the weekend featured an all-ages section on the main level of the venue.
The bar was packed and it was immediately clear that the all-ages night hadn’t deterred any of the 21+ crowd from coming out. Many of them also appeared to be substantially smashed, as though they’d been posted up since the doors to the venue opened at 7 p.m. Seriously, I can’t count how many middle aged men slurred something in my direction before dropping their $6 beers on themselves or the floor in front of them.
I grabbed a beer, thenlooked for a standing spot where I wouldn’t be in danger of being covered in spilled booze. I quickly became discouraged when I realized that there wasn’t anywhere on the 21+ balcony where I’d actually be able to see what was happening on the stage below. I pounded my beer, watched the two massive big screens set up above the stage as opener’s The Toadies finished their set and reminisced with my friend Lauren about the many times we’d seen Social Distortion play before.
I can’t actually remember how many times I saw the group growing up. The first time was at the Utah State Fairgrounds for the Big Ass Show and the last time was likely a sold-out show at In the Venue that happened sometime during my senior year of high school. What I do remember is how highly anticipated a Social Distortion show always was. Tickets were purchased months in advance, CDs were on constant repeat for weeks before the date and hopefully I’d be able to save some extra cash to buy a t-shirt or poster at the show. Social Distortion’s shows always draw a massive and diverse crowd, and Saturday’s show was no exception. Punk rock kids, tattooed rockabilly couples, metal heads, normal looking folk, people in Skin Industry hats and a number of middle-aged drunk men were all present at the show.
Shortly after 10 p.m. the lights dimmed and the Beastie Boys’ “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” began to blast from the stage. Glowing red lights illuminated it and when the Beasties song ended, Mike Ness and the rest of the band emerged.
Although I didn’t see the show the night before, from those that I’ve talked to and reviews that I’ve read, it seems as if the band attempted to make the two experiences identical. Mike Ness appeared to rock the same white button-up and classy pair of suspenders that he wore the evening before and the set lists from the two shows were damn near identical. The set list spanned the band’s career from the early ’90s forward. I was disappointed that nothing from Social D’s early days made an appearance in the set (I had my fingers crossed for “Mommy’s Little Monster”), but wasn’t entirely surprised by the decision—after all I’m guessing the majority of those present in the crowd were more familiar with the band’s later work.
Even though he recently turned 50, Mike Ness’ age hasn’t seemed to put a damper on his live performance. Although he’s visibly aged since the last time I saw the band (it seems as if he has stopped dying his hair jet black and no longer worries that he is starting to go bald), his energy on stage was as spectacular as ever and it quickly translated to the massive crowd. Ness commented multiple times throughout the performance that the energy of the under-age crowd seemed rowdier than it had been the night before. Within a few songs, a massive circle pit had formed in the middle of the room and didn’t seem to stop throughout the entire show.
At approximately 11 p.m. the band exited the stage briefly before returning for a four-song encore. I can’t be certain, but I’m pretty sure that the four-song encore was also identical to the one played the night previous and included an excellent cover of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” and a mediocre cover of Carl Perkins’ “Let the Jukebox Keep Playing.”
Although I can’t say I was thrilled to discover that the two nights were almost identical, I can’t deny that I didn’t have a good time. Social Distortion’s brand of rockabilly infused punk rock still hasn’t gotten old, and I’m willing to guess that Mike Ness will keep the show on the road for years to come.