Social Distortion Live: Two Reviews, Two Opposing Opinions... in a Steel Cage Match!

Feb 23, 2005

Social Distortion/Backyard Babies/The Street Dogs
The Joint, Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas, Nevada
February 3, 2005
Live Review and Photos by Dooger

Social Distortion in Las Vegas, touring in support of one of their best albums ever, Sex, Love and Rock 'n' Roll... Ahh, can you say "no-brainer?"

Let me set the scene for you here... First of all, I've got to confess that I'm a HUGE Social Distortion fan... I own all of their albums, a bunch of bootlegs, live DVD's, and I've recorded with their original drummer Derek O'Brien. Suffice it to say that I'm one of the faithful and they're preaching to the converted. No, I don't wear wifebeater shirts, don't have any tats or slicked back hair, I'm not a member of the "family" or anything, but they rock and that's the truth. And if you need more proof, go out and find a copy of the Another State of Mind video and you can see who's boss ­ it's all there and lead singer/guitarist Mike Ness is the winner.

I've never been to the Hard Rock Hotel. Actually, I'd seen Social Distortion quite by accident over a year ago at the House of Blues in the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas (they rocked, of course!), but this new venue was a mystery to me and frankly I was a tad skeptical as I only knew about the Hard Rock from watching The Howard Stern Show live in Las Vegas and it seemed like a cheesy venue on television.

I was told to arrive at the will-call window at 9:45 PM and the photographers were going to be shepherded into a private area directly in front of the band for three songs by their really nice Las Vegas liaison, Lisa. Of course I got to the venue at 7:30 PM and proceeded to get the Fosters beers a-rolling. I mean this is punk rock, right? I'm not reviewing Celine Dion here!

I've been to a lot of casinos in my time but I've got to confirm that the Hard Rock IS pretty cool actually. How many places on the strip can you hear the Ramones, Blondie, and Iggy Pop piped through the casino sound system while you're gambling? How about never! The night before I was at Caesars Palace and was forced to endure a cover band performing Toto's "In Africa" and Jimmy Buffet's "Margaritaville" to a huge throng of total dildos who loved them and people that you'd never want to know in your entire lifetime. So this punk rock music blasting through the Hard Rock Hotel's sound system was a good thing!

But I digress...

The Street Dogs were up first. Don't know 'em, but they had a British/Irish street punk vibe and the fellow next to me who was from Boston and was wearing a Flogging Molly t-shirt said that they reminded him of that band but that they weren't quite as good. I kinda liked them actually and the singer was really energetic - running all around, jumping off the stage a bunch of times, and their drummer was tight as fuck too. Only complaint was that the singer yelled "Put your hands in air!" and "Hello, Las Vegas!" WAY too many times. I'm not big on the audience participation thing and if I wanted to be told to wave my hands in the air, I'd go and see Bon Jovi live.

Next up was the Backyard Babies. I've heard about these guys quite a bit on the hype front - perhaps it's their Swedish roots or that my good friend and host of the Ramones tribute web site, Jari Pekka, had told me how great they were, so I was really looking forward to them. And I hate to admit it but I was bored to tears! They were way too ROCK AND ROLL for my tastes. Imagine a sped-up Black Crowes or a group of Swedish hippies trying to sound like AC/DC and you'd get the general idea. The drummer had a full beard, for God's sake. Hit the barber, dude! Sorry, not my cup of meat, so I left the hall and ventured back into the general casino area to hang with the punks and grab one last beer before SD arrived.

At 9:40 PM, I was trying like hell to work off the beer buzz and I stood by the will call window for my first ever photo pit shoot. I noticed that the unfriendly fellow beside me had a digital camera with a lens that looked like it cost about five thousand dollars and there I was with my tiny $200 Kodak camera. Talk about a puny dick moment. I made small talk with a few of the other photogs, and surprisingly, none of them knew the band. Weird! Anyhow, Lisa eventually showed up and led us through the sold-out crowd right up to the front and the enormous bouncers let us into the small section directly in front of the stage. And then it hit me. Am I a fucking genius for pulling this gig off or what? I'm about to see Social Distortion from the very front and get to take pictures to boot! Todd, I owe you one! I made small talk with some of the fans pressed against the railing in the front and they can tell that I'm also a demented fan and mistakenly think that I write for Maximumrocknroll. Ahh, no, I tell them, the mag's called Razorcake and it was created out of the ashes of Flipside and it seems to offer some semblance of street-cred to these diehards I suppose and for whatever that's worth.

And out they came. Holy shit, it was Social Distortion! Off they went into "Reach For the Sky" from their fantastic new album, then into "Highway 101" and finally "Pleasure Seeker." All the while, I was trying my damnedest to get some good shots but I was also jumping around like a total fanboy, much to the chagrin of my fellow photographers. Really, I couldn't help it and I was caught up in a kind of euphoria that I haven't experienced in years. The band sounded fantastic and I was enjoying every last moment of this three-song front row thing. Immediately after the last of the three songs ended, all of the photographers exited stage left so I reluctantly followed and headed to the back of the venue for the rest of the gig - shit, I wanted to STAY THERE!

A gaggle of old school hits followed, including "Under My Thumb," "1945," "Sick Boy," "Another State of Mind," "Mommy's Little Monster," "Bad Luck," and a few new nuggets as well including their current hit, "Don't Take Me for Granted." The crowd was going apeshit and a couple of fights also broke out, wouldn't you know it, right next to ME. Actually, it was sort of scary as fists were being flung perilously close to my head and a bunch of bouncers immediately pounced on the dimwits and out the door they went! Hey, the Hard Rock Casino staff has this crowd control thing down to a fine art! Mike Ness tells a funny story about their early gigs in Vegas and how they used to play tiny dives in basement clubs and how far they've come to be performing in a nice big venue like The Joint. And the truth is, if any band deserves a growing fan base at this stage of the game based on the quality of their songs and live performance, it's these guys. If you don't know what Social Distortion sounds like and you've been living under a rock, imagine a working class, roots punk rock band, filled with hooks galore and you'd be in the right neighborhood. This Johnny Two Bags is a hell of a guitarist, and drummer Charlie Quintana is rock solid as well. Really, one of the best new albums and live shows of the year. It's hard to believe that Mike Ness has been at this over twenty five years. The band's gotten BETTER with age. Following their encore of "Footprints," "Ring of Fire," and "Story of My Life," the jam packed crowd reluctantly left the club and headed out into the cool desert night and the long line-up for taxi cabs, having just experienced one of the best shows of the year for sure. If they're coming to your town, get out the wallet and go see them live. You won't be disappointed!

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Social Distortion/Tiger Army/The Explosion
The Kool Haus, Toronto, Ontario Canada
October 25th, 2004
Live Review by Dick Vain

I arrived at the venue at God knows what time to stand in a fucking line-up that went around the block! What is this shit? The Rolling Stones? I finally got to the ticket window and talked with the putz from House of Blues who put on the gig so I could get my pass to take photos of Social Distortion to go with this review. Thanks to Todd at Razorcake and Kelly from the Marketing Factory for helping me get into the gig and permission to take photos. I can't believe I needed permission to take photos of a band who at one time would have given their right nut to anyone to take photos or do an interview. How the times have changed!

So anyway, the woman at the window said to me, "Dick Vain, you can't take photos of Social Distortion, you can only take pictures of Tiger Army." I said, "This is supposed to go with a review for a major magazine in Los Angeles," but she said, "Can't do anything about it, that's our policy. I know you talked to Kelly, blah blah blah..." Anyway, she gave me a photo pass, and get this, there was a Social Distortion skelly but below it, it said, "Tiger Army only." Then this other woman told me to meet her back there at whatever time Tiger Army was supposed to play so she could escort me to the spot where I was allowed to take photos. Again, what the fuck?

I went in and watched the Explosion. They were excellent, better than the last time I saw them when they toured with Strike Anywhere a few years back. Then I had a thirty minute wait until I had to meet the woman to escort me backstage. I was also not allowed to put my pass on until I was in my spot to take photos. Holy fuck! The woman took me over to the stage in front of the barricade and said, "No flashes allowed and you can take photos of Tiger Army for the first three songs and that's it," and then after the first three songs were over, this woman walked over to me and ripped the pass off of my shirt. I was in shock! I must say, though, with all this shit going on, Tiger Army were great!

At that point, I had no idea when SD were to hit the stage so I walk around the venue checking out the jackasses who now support Social Distortion. When the fuck did psychobilly and rockabilly get so big? Okay, an hour and a half went by before Orange County's biggest thing since Disneyland came on. Man, has Mike Ness lost a lot of hair! They blasted through the first number and before the next song, Mike Ness said, "Hello, Vancouver!" Dude, are you back on the shit? He tried to recover for the next hour to correct that mistake and the funny thing is they hadn't played Vancouver yet. I thought it was just me and the fact that this was the first time I had seen Social Distortion sober, but man, did they blow! After about an hour of trying to enjoy the band, I had to ask my friend Craig if he felt the same. He said, "We have seen them at their peak and now in their decline." They played a long set but not long enough for the suckers who paid forty dollars to see them. That's right, folks, forty fucking dollars!

I would have to say it was one of the worst gigs I have ever seen! The addition of Matt Freeman and Charlie Quintana did nothing to help the situation. In fact, Charlie could not hold it together, and what was with the leather gloves, dude? You think you are still playing for Izzy? Matt spent most of the time combing his hair. Dude, it's not Sha Na Na! I think Mike Ness needs to re-think his band and get Biscuits back or at least a better drummer. Hopefully the new bass player will be better. The next tour they are doing is not selling out and people on Punk News felt the same way I did for other dates on this tour. So Ness, you have disappointed a long time fan with your sad excuse for a band, your rock star attitude, and your overpriced shit merchandise. Punk rock, my ass!