Social Distortion Bring Down the House

Just the second night of their nine-plus date residency at the House of Blues in Anaheim, Social Distortion have proved that they can bring down the house time and time again. I was lucky enough to be in the sold-out crowd, and what an experience it was. It was an hour and change of non-stop, nitty-gritty rock ’n’ roll.

It’s been quite a while since these Orange County natives have played a stint of hometown shows. Usually an annual affair, the band instead spent their time touring the world in support of their newest album, “Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes.”

“We’ve been on the road for the last two and a half years,” frontman Mike Ness addressed to the crowd. “And it’s good to be back home.”

Social Distortion was given a very warm and boisterous welcome as they took the stage late Thursday night. Dressed like a ’20s gangster, complete with fedora and overcoat, Ness walked onstage last, a smile on his face. With a tip of his hat, he greeted the crowd and assumed a stance, his back to the audience. On cue with the drums, he swayed his hips to the beat, and jumped right into the opening chords of “Dear Lover,” off “White Light, White Heat, White Trash.”

The second Ness turned around, the room exploded with cheers and dancing. So much so, that the barrier at the front of the stage swayed forward a few inches. Ness commanded the crowd with his presence alone, providing the chugging rhythm and gritty voice the band is known for. Without a second of hesitation, they began “Don’t Drag Me Down” off the same album. The entire time, the crowd went wild, dancing and cheering right along to the music.

Known for switching up their set list every night, the band did not disappoint. A testament to the quality of their music, they played only a few of their hits, and still put on a great show. They left out Social Distortion classics like “Story of My Life,” “Ball and Chain” and the catchy “Bad Luck” (which Ness played onstage with Bruce Springsteen two nights before). Ness noted a few nights later in reference to the hits, “We’ve played the same song every night for 20 years, we’d think you guys would be sick of it.” Instead, they charged through the album, “White Light, White Heat, White Trash,” in its entirety.

One of the many highlights of the night was the band’s rendition of “Down Here with the Rest of Us.” Not normally in the band’s set list, it was a real treat to hear the song just as it is on the album. The message is simple — no one is exempt from death, so make the most of life.

During their encore set, Ness relaxed a bit as he told the crowd a few childhood stories about growing up in downtown Fullerton, “Walking down the train tracks and throwing oranges.” He related to things that only people from Orange County would really understand, which made it that much more special for a hometown show. He mentioned that he is writing a book on his life of “sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll and bad relationships,” which, knowing Ness, should be an interesting read.

Throughout the four-song encore set Ness shared more anecdotes on his life. “I’ve been angry for most of my life,” he said. “It’s taken me a while to realize that the pen is mightier than the sword.”

Another highlight of the night was when the band paid homage to some of their key influences. “We wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for a little band called the Rolling Stones, The Ramones, a little Hank Williams, and who could forget … don’t even think about forgetting about Johnny Cash!” Ness even got the crowd to chant “Johnny f***ing Cash!” before jumping into a cover of “Folsom Prison Blues.”

Just like that, the night had come to a close. After a blazing cover of “Ring of Fire,” the band thanked the crowd and quietly left the stage to a roaring applause. Like all Social Distortion shows, the night seemed to fly by in an instant. Although most of the December shows are now sold out, the band has extended their Orange County residency with a few dates in January. Go see them if you have the chance — you’ll be glad you did.