When Mike Ness compliments his audience, he calls them "survivors." That's high praise, considering that he has emerged on the other side of hard living—sewn into dozens of instantly memorable songs that span an incredible 32 years.
Ness walked on stage in a long jacket and fedora, looking every bit like the hardened godfather of SoCal punk rock that he is.
Social Distortion opened with a raging trio of songs from 1983's Mommy's Little Monster, a clear reminder that while another record is due in January, these guys have been walking along the tracks for a long time.
The rest of the set drew heavily from the 1990-1996 trio of Epic records. Fist pumpers "Sick Boys" and "I Was Wrong" were the perfect crowd shout-alongs, and the band reached back to its roots on the blues-infused version of "Ball and Chain."
Social D unveiled four songs from the upcoming Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes: "Still Alive," the story of a life another two decades down the road; "Bakersfield," which hardly covered Buck Owens territory, but was closer to the country end of the spectrum than anything else Social D has recorded; "Machine Gun Blues," a menacing, biker-bar ode to John Dillinger; and a razor-wire cover of Hank Williams' "Alone and Forsaken."
If 2004's Sex, Love and Rock 'n' Roll was a tribute to the band's late guitarist, Dennis Danell, Hard Times sounds like it'll be a tribute to all the other outsiders who've shown up along Ness' unlikely 48 years. At the sold-out Rialto, the outsiders saluted, and the Don delivered.
With a Memphis blend of pedal steel and horns, Lucero filled the middle slot. Frontman Ben Nichols, one of the few singers to possess a voice grittier and growlier than Ness, joked that Lucero's songs are about motorcycles, strippers and tattoos—and then sang a tribute to his mother.
Opener Frank Turner, backed by a four-piece band, played a rousing brand of British folk-punk that places the 28-year-old as a clear heir to Billy Bragg and Joe Strummer. Turner's half-hour set was a celebration, and the crowd-sing-along chorus to "I Still Believe" couldn't have been truer to the night: "After all, something as simple as rock 'n' roll will save us all."