With Screamin’ Jay Hakwins’s ecstatic version of “I Put a Spell on You” as their entrance music, the members of Social Distortion strutted onstage like champs and proceeded to mesmerize their loyal fans at the sold-out Majestic Ventura Theater show on March 7.
When Mike Ness then told the audience right off the bat that the band was red hot from touring, he did not lie. Starting off with the hard-rocking “Bye Bye Baby” (from the 1992 release Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell), Ness and company owned the stage with superior playing. Led by Mike’s stinging Les Paul Deluxe (tricked-out with Seymour Duncan P-90s) guitar tone, when Social D began to rock, the crowd began to roll. Then, the rhythmically tight classic “Bad Luck” (from 1992’s Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell) followed, during which rhythm guitarist Jonny “Two Bags” Wickersham, bassist Brett Harding, and drummer David Hidalgo Jr. kicked major ass. By now it was clear that Social D was locked into a groove and running like a well-tuned engine. “Don’t Bring Me Down” was next (from ’96’s down ‘n’ dirty White Light, White Heat, White Trash), a song that seems exceedingly relevant once again due to the state of the nation.
Social D then dipped into 2011’s Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes for “California (Hustle and Flow)” and — after Ness extolled the audience to tune out mainstream media such as Fox News and CNN and tune in to NPR for some truth — the boys continued with “Gimme the Sweet and Lowdown.” “Ball and Chain” found the die-hard fans chanting along to Ness’ bitter chorus of: “I’m born to lose and destined to fail,” showing it to be yet another Social D gem that speaks to and for the millions of downtrodden citizens in a nation where the American dream is all but dead.
A cool surprise was the band’s inclusion of Jonny Two Bags’ moving song “Hope Dies Hard,” from his great 2014 solo album, Salvation Town. After that, Ness’s signature sing-along song “Story of My Life” was showcased to wild approval. The group also played “This Time, Darlin’ ” and some sick new material: “Scars” (about Ness trying to come to terms with his past) and a rollicking bluesy tune called “When I Lay My Burden Down,” which was reminiscent of Exile on Main Street–era Stones and featured Jonny killing it on slide guitar.
After telling the audience that he loved his country but didn’t trust the so-called leaders and corporations running things, as well as observing that almost every U.S. president over the last 70 years has led us into wars, Ness and the band broke into a spirited rendition of “Gotta Know the Rules.” Ending on a high note, the group ripped through the anthemic “Reach for the Sky” (off of 2004’s Love, Sex and Rock ‘n’ Roll) and cover of the Johnny Cash classic “Ring of Fire,” as some in the crowd moshed and let it burn. Without a doubt, Social Distortion left all the sick boys and sick girls — young and old alike — satisfied to have witnessed the legendary band’s showmanship and glory.
(Also worth mentioning was opening artist and up-and-comer Jade Jackson —a talented young singer/songwriter with a beautiful face and gorgeous voice possessed of an old-school-country-meets-Mazzy-Star-style; her debut album, Gilded —produced by Ness— drops this May.)