with The Street Dogs and Backyard Babies
Orlando, FL • March 4, 2005
Jen CrayStop mourning the deaths of rockstars past. We’ve got a legend in our midst who is alive, well — and touring. Mike Ness is as iconic as Kurt Cobain, Joe Strummer, Joey Ramone, and Johnny Cash. He is Rock ‘n’ Roll, and his band — Social Distortion — is one of the longest-lasting, and most consistently good punk bands in history. Formed in Fullerton, CA in 1979, when Ness was still a teenager, Social Distortion has survived drug problems, tragedies, and a changing musical climate. The music they’re making today, 25 years after their inception, is every bit as classic as the angst-filled, blues-inspired, simple punk songs they wrote in the beginning of their career. And their concerts still sell out.
This was to be my third Social D show in just over a year, and the first one I would be photographing. Allow me to interject a little bit of autiobiography. I attend a lot of concerts, and have been fortunate enough to photograph some of my favorite artists. But no band has ever made me so sick to my stomach with nervous anxiety as Social Distortion did. I have never been so ecstatic to shoot a band! With these butterflies in my belly, I entered my second home, the House of Blues.
After a beer or two I settled in to shoot the opening band, The Street Dogs. These Boston punks were popular with the crowd, especially for those wearing their Dropkick Murphys t-shirts, coming in to check out that band’s former lead singer, Mike McColgan. McColgan, who had left DKM to become a fireman, now leads The Street Dogs — when he’s not fighting fires. His boundless energy is the most striking feature in the band’s performance. The only time he stood still was to wave “hello” and “goodbye.” Their music is the Irish-flavored punk that’s been coming out of the Boston area, but blessedly less Celtic sing-a-long than some of their peers.
Backyard Babies is a strange name for a band. I don’t know what kind of music I was expecting, but it wasn’t the ’80s hair metal-singed punk that I was confronted with. This band, from Sweden, has been around for over 15 years and are well-studied in the art of being rock musicians. They had the exotic looks, and accents, and a flair that was almost glam. Despite a few catchy songs, the music was unmemorable, but guitarist Dregen was a monster onstage. Drenched in sweat from the first note, he was the quintessential lead guitarist. One very impressive move he pulled off was a leap into the air that landed him sitting on the edge of the stage, legs dangling into the security pit. Of course he gets much practice — he’s also in The Hellacopters.One final time, the curtains parted. Illuminated alone is a large backdrop of the greatest band trademark since the Rolling Stones’ lips, Social Distortion’s skeleton with the martini glass and cigarette. One by one, they walked onto the stage — guitarist Jonny Wickersham, drummer Charlie Quintana, brand new bassist Brent Harding, and Mike Ness last, as always. When he walks up to the microphone wearing a navy blue beret and a black leather jacket, it’s hard not to become starstruck.
“Long time no see,” he breathed into the mic, to which the crowd roared in response. This guy is the picture of cool, like Samuel L. Jackson’s character in Pulp Fiction. “You just know his wallet must say ‘Bad Motha Fucka’ on it,” my girlfriend agrees.
Ridding himself of the jacket and strapping on his Les Paul, he led the band into the classic “Mommy’s Little Monster.” This was followed by an equally timeless tune that put the crowd into a frenzy, “Another State of Mind.” The pit had formed and the crowd surfing had commenced — this was easily the most on-the-verge-of-a-riot kind of crowd I have seen in years. I didn’t see one person that was not beating their heads, their fists or their entire bodies in response to the music. It seemed that everyone is experiencing the same feeling of “Holy shit! This is awesome!”
As far as the setlist goes, the old favorites were spread out amongst the new songs off last years Sex, Love and Rock ‘n’ Roll. The often-played cover of an old sexy, blues number, “It’s Alright,” was a showstopping highlight. After an extended solo with much attitude, Ness sangs the lines, “We did it in the kitchen / We did it in the hall / I got some on my fingers / So I wiped it on the wall / and it’s alright…”Before their final song Ness called out an 11-year-old fan named Glenn, who had been crowd surfing, onto the stage. “I brought him up here to make a point… Here’s to the old-timers who’ve been coming out to shows and bringing their kids… He’s part of the next generation.”
For the encore: a punk rock love song “Footprints On My Ceiling,” a classic cover of “Ring of Fire,” and the song that sums up a pre-Hot Topic generation, “Story of My Life.” With lyrics that never fail to incite the crowd to sing along, “Good times come and good times go / I only wish the good times would last a little longer / Thinkin’ about the good times we had/ And why they had to end.” It’s an hour and a half of pure adrenaline, and I was left exhausted.
Social Distortion: www.socialdistortion.com