Social Distortion is due for a critical reevaluation as it enters its fifth decade as one of the most significant bands in the history of American rock 'n' roll. The ensemble has long been viewed as an indispensable purveyor of punk, but that characterization is only partially accurate.
The buzzsaw guitar attack employed by Social Distortion since its formation in Orange County, Cal., in 1978 obscures the fact that it’s actually an old-fashioned roots-oriented rock band.
Social Distortion’s headlining appearance on the Lead Bank Stage at Crossroads KC at Ink magazine’s Middle of the Map Fest on June 30 represents an opportunity to reassess the band’s legacy.
His bountiful tattoos and surly swagger make Mike Ness, the vocalist and primary songwriter of Social Distortion, look the part of America’s preeminent punk. Having overcome substance abuse in the 1980s, Ness acts as a trustworthy elder statesman when he snarls that “I almost ended up dead like those other fools” on "California (Hustle and Flow)", a standout track on the Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes album.
The 2011 release also includes an earnest interpretation of Hank Williams’ “Alone and Forsaken.” The cover of the forlorn composition by the tormented country giant isn’t an anomaly.
Rather than trying to hide influences that other punks might think are unfashionable, Ness openly embraces the music that shaped his sound.
He notes that “the black man taught me how to sing the blues” on “California (Hustle and Flow).”
Social Distortion is firmly in the rock continuum of Elvis Presley and Bruce Springsteen.
Social Distortion’s blistering cover of "Ring of Fire" played a major role in shifting the public perception of Johnny Cash from a corny has-been into a paragon of cool. With covers of songs associated with the Carter Family, Wanda Jackson and Marty Robbins, Ness’ two solo albums drive the point home with even more aplomb.
The current Social Distortion lineup of guitarist Jonny "2 Bags" Wickersham, keyboardist David Kalish, bassist Brent Harding and drummer David Hidalgo Jr. allows Ness to seamlessly meld unprocessed roots music with ferocious punk.
Ness’ defiant bark on classic Social Distortion songs like “I Was Wrong” resembles the unrepentant last words of a condemned man. His band mates play with a fury as hair-raising as the Social Distortion-branded pomade that’s sold at the band’s website.
Social Distortion hasn’t released new music in several years. It doesn’t matter. The band has a deep catalog of durable favorites highlighted by its best-known song "Story of My Life." The band will add another chapter to that captivating tale when it headlines the Middle of the Map Fest on June 30 at Crossroads KC.
Ink's Middle of the Map Fest
Main-stage events will take place at Crossroads KC. Bands will also perform each night at the RecordBar, the Brick and the Black Dolphin. Friday, June 29 and Saturday, June 30. Tickets range from $45 for Friday to $200 for a 2-day, VIP pass. middleofthemapfest.com