Punk Rock: Social Distortion Be Thy Name

Photography by Justin Harlan

Last Wednesday evening around 9:15, Michael James Ness and his crew of well-aged punk rock veterans took yet another stage in this great city of Philadelphia and provided the type of show they’ve been known to put on for decades now. Having already conquered nearly every major venue in the city, it was only fitting that this latest visit would be to Festival Pier, where the living legends could check off one more stage with a loud outdoor punk show where the young and young-at-heart could drink, dance, and sing the night away like it was 1990 once again.

“Why 1990?” you ask.

This is why.

This summer’s tour was the twenty fifth anniversary of Social Distortion’s seminal self-titled album, a defining album in the genre. As the nine’o’clock hour approached, the stage was set. After the supporting cast of alt-country acts and honky tonk punks reminded the fans of Mike’s love of country and the rockabilly roots of the Social D flavor of punk rock, the band took the stage.

First, David Kalish sat behind the keys set off to the back and side at stage left. Then, Brett strutted his way to his awaiting bass at stage right. Just behind him, Hidalgo followed and then made his way behind his kit. Then, Johnny Two Bags grabbed up his guitar standing in the same position, but opposite side of Brett. This left only center stage open… and the man himself walked into a sea of screams and cheers.

With a brief word of thanks for the ovation, Mike and the crew ripped right into “So Far Away,” the opening track of the twenty-five year-old gem being celebrated on the gorgeous summer night. The band was tight, Mike oozed as much charisma as ever, and Johnny Two Bags played a great Robin to Mike’s Batman. With each new song, this dynamic continued and the crowd sang along so loudly they must have heard it all the way up into the great Northeast. Philly’s Social D fans were alive and well and they wanted the world to know the greatness of these punk rock icons.

The crowd went especially wild during “Story Of My Life” and “Sick Boys” a one-two-punch early in the set. Kids who weren’t even born when this album was released joined fifty year-old grownup punks in creating a wild, fun dance pit in front of the stage. This power punch was followed by the classic “Ball And Chain.” After wrapping up the final note, Mike mentioned to the crowd that he respected everyone out there partying with them, despite some people having to work in the morning, to which a member of the crowd yelled, “F#&*k tomorrow!”  Mike applauded the sentiment and told the entire crowd to tell their bosses they can call him if there’s a problem. He then got a bit deeper about life, death, jail, pain, and loss before thanking God that he’s made it through, and explaining that it could have been him… which of course led into “It Coulda Been Me.”

Tearing through the album, it was notable to the trained ear that a certain June Carter/Johnny Cash classic somehow was overlooked when barreling through the rest of the album. One could only assume it may be tacked on as a closer or an encore, but before we’d find out, the nine other songs on the self-titled release were followed by “Cold Feelings” from Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell, a couple of covers (Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses” and Hank William’s “Alone and Forsaken“), “This Time Darlin” (also from Somewhere Between…) and the only newer track in the set, 2007’s “Far Behind.”

Of course, this set’s close was not the end. The crowd roared for more and the band came back to give the crowd what they wanted… three more songs, starting with “Don’t Drag Me Down” from White Light, White Heat, White Trash. The last two tracks were covers, Johnny Cash’s classic “Folsom Prison Blues” and the track that all good fans knew wasn’t simply overlooked from the earlier set, “Ring of Fire.” The crowd lost control for the final closer, but no one could blame them when the world’s greatest living punk band was out there covering the Carter/Cash classic with fervor and heart.

While it’s quite unlikely to be Social D’s last venture through the City of Brotherly Love, it was their strongest to date. The raw punk rock power that Social D has always been known for, coupled with wily veterans who have gotten better with age, Wednesday night’s concert was one for the ages.

Check out all the photos from the show below!

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Were you there?  Tell us your favorite song from the set in the comments below!

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