Sunday, September 28, 2014

Concert review: Social Distortion, Jonny Two Bags, The Whigs - Riverside, Calif.

2011 photo by Armando Brown
Riverside music fans were obviously clamoring for some classic punk rock.

When Social Distortion’s concert Friday night at the Municipal Auditorium first went on sale, it sold out in just under an hour. That’s rare, but not surprising since Live Nation started booking a higher caliber of acts after the 1929 venue went through a major refurbishment a few years ago.    
Apparently marking the veteran OC band’s first live appearance in Riverside, leader Mike Ness (pictured above at the KROQ/106.7 FM Almost Acoustic Xmas) said, “this is a beautiful theater downtown. Why’d it take us so long to get here? Oh yeah, we weren’t asked.”

Previously, longtime Social D enthusiasts had to drive to Pomona or one of KROQ's much-missed Inland Invasion festivals at Glen Helen Pavilion in Devore to see them play.

The band’s supercharged 90-minute set here was worth the wait. Perched on the Muni stage were various items you might find for sale at a vintage thrift shop: a stoplight, a ceramic dog that looked like the old RCA Records mascot Nipper, a police officer and a small neon sign that read “open.”

Taking the stage to the strains of the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter,” the group launched  with brawny instrumental “Road Zombie,” from 2011’s Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes. But they barely touched upon it. Instead, a third of the selections came from 1996’s hard-edged White Light White Heat White Trash.

It didn’t take long for a large slam pit and crowd surfing to start full force. “I wrote this when I was 18 years old. I supposed I was an angry young man,” Ness, now 52, recalled onstage before digging way back for “The Creeps (I Just Wanna Give You).” His electric guitar tandem with Jonny “Two Bags” Wickersham was totally intense.

Then Social D continued the look back at 1983 with “Another State of Mind,” another searing song from debut LP Mommy’s Little Monster. Assisted by keyboardist Danny McGough on some tunes, the musicians' backing harmonies on a more recent “Machine Gun Blues” and “Sometimes I Do” were strong. 

The crowd cheered loudly for modern rock radio hit “Ball and Chain,” done here in a slower, but no less effective, tempo.

“Crown of Thorns,” which contains one of Ness' more memorable crunchy guitar lines, was a concert highlight. A lengthy bluesy intro to “Dear Lover” gave way to some wailing lead vocals. 

Prior to doing Hank Williams cover “Six More Miles” – a  frequent set inclusion off Ness’ 1999 solo album Under the Influences – the singer explained that without Williams, “there’d be no Stones, Sex Pistols or Social D.” The upbeat folk song provided a welcome change of pace.

The snarling “Misery Loves Company,” from Ness’ other solo album Cheating at Solitaire, came during the encores, where the front man humorously admitted, “sometimes you just want to stay in a bad mood.” His guitar solo came across effortlessly. Finally, Social D put a lid on the gig with the customary, always exhilarating hit take on the Johnny Cash popularized, “Ring of Fire.”

Wickersham served as the first opening act with a solid half hour set derived from his impressive new solo album Salvation Town.

Released last spring on Isotone/Thirty Tigers Records, the roots rock collection has been compared to early Nick Lowe and Graham Parker.

It features top-notch vocal or musical contributions from Jackson Browne, the Attractions’ Pete Thomas, David Lindley, Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo, plus Social D bassist Brent Harding and McGough. Producer Dave Kalish sweetened some of Wickersham’s mostly acoustic-driven songs with organ live in Riverside.

Concert standouts included the shuffling “The Avenues” (where Harding and Social D. drummer David Hidalgo Jr. guested on backing vocals); the sumptuous “One Foot in the Gutter,” a yearning, autobiographical “Clay Wheels” (about skateboarding), which featured mandolin; and the reflective set ender “Hope Dies Hard.”     

Following Two Bags was another opening act, The Whigs. The Nashville-via-Athens, Ga. garage rock band formed in '02. Fifth solo album Modern Creation - helmed by esteemed studio vet Jim Scott - arrived last April on New West Records.

courtesy New West Records
Led by Parker Gispert, whose stringy long hair and sunglasses at the Muni made him look like Neil Young circa 1969, the trio’s invigorating 40-minute set proved it really knew how to kick out the jams.

That was especially true on the epic “Staying Alive” from 2013’s Enjoy the Company, where Julian Dorio drummed like a madman. At times, Gispert would crouch down on the floor or even accentuate his guitar solo with a high leg kick. The Whigs fared best during the grungy and appropriate “Friday Night,” blazing rocker “Already Young” (key line: “I don’t care what your old man thinks of me”) and “Right Hand on My Heart.”

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