Boulder was rocked off its ass this week when Social Distortion came through town, bringing with them their infamous brand of rockabilly a la punk rock. Frontman Mike Ness and crew were on hand to deliver the Social D experience, greatest hits and then some. Sporting a fedora like the gangster straight outta the prohibition-era inspired “Machine Gun Blues” (one my faves of the night), Ness started the set with radio-friendly “Bad Luck,” and took us on a tour through the three-decade reign atop their genre. Not only did they give up the Social Distortion classics like “I Was Wrong” and “Ball and Chain,” but they played their way through some of the new stuff off their most recent album, Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes, like the story-ballad of a guy stuck in “Bakersfield.”
Performing under a giant banner with the familiar S.D. skeleton flashing his (or her?) toothy smile, the band sent the crowd into a tizzy for almost an hour and a half. Taking the time to switch it up a bit from their familiar formula of fast-paced rockabilly, they went unplugged with an upright bass, acoustic guitar, and accordion on a cover of the country-rich “Let The Jukebox Keep On Playing” (see Mike Ness’s solo album Under the Influences.)
And as the night at The Boulder Theatre came to an end we were blown away by the raw aggression of “Reach For the Sky,” and then transported into the stratosphere via Ness’s gravelly crooning on the classic Cash homage, “Ring of Fire.” This wonderful finale reminded us of why Social Distortion has thrived through it all, despite having gone through more lineup changes than albums: they have a distinctively edgy sound, balanced by simple yet soulful melodies, rooted in the heart of American rock.