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Social Distortion ages well

House of Blues, Boston, October 31, 2012

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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Social Distortion has been at their craft for 34 years already, but the Fullerton, Cal. punk rockers with a bit of a rootsy edge are showing no signs of aging.

That would start with lead singer and Mr. Social D. himself, Mike Ness. Ness came out before the sold-out crowd in a dapper black fedora, white dress chart, long dress jacket, black pants and red suspenders. Yet, this was not going to be some tidy affair.

Far from it, of course, because Ness and his whiskey-soaked voice along with his three band mates churned out the 17 songs over the course of about 90 minutes with energy, a sense of melody and even a willingness to play with restraint.

The band released the strong "Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes" last year, which showed their fans that Social D. remained very strong at their trademark sound - a melodic, punk bent with Ness' vocals prominently featured. He does not sound like he has changed all that much over the years vocally. There is a bit of a raw edge and feel, without - for the most part - getting lost in the mix.

Yet, the night was not an exercise in only seeing how hard and fast the band (give drummer David Hidalgo Jr. a lot of credit for setting up the songs with his always sturdy drum beat) could dish out the songs. In fact, Social D. was more than content to play it softer and slower on occasion.

Social Distortion trotted out three songs from the new disc, including the strong Gimme The Sweet And Lowdown. The group also delved into the heavy blues on Black Magic which Nessen wrote in 1994, didn't make the album out then ("White Light, White Heat, White Trash"), but promptly forgot about it before resurrecting it here. The song was a welcome change of pace, something Social Distortion did a few times throughout the night to avoid going for the same musical jugular once too often.

Ness also changed it up a tremendous amount with Company C, an encore song that was his own. The song was about a friend of his who suffered the ills of going to war in Viet Nam.

In reaching back to some of his own musical roots, Ness and company closed out the night with the Johnny Cash-identified gem Ring Of Fire. The song brought out the rebel spirit of Cash with the punk sound of Social Distortion to show that this is a band that continues to demonstrate a keen ability to make sweet punk music.

Lindi Ortega, a Canadian singer (she just moved to Nashville) from the alt.-country end of country, preceded the headliners with a good set musically.

Ortega has a strong voice that recalls Dolly Parton to a large extent, meaning it's got a lot of depth to it. She showed that in highlighting songs from her new release "Cigarettes & Truckstops."

Playing with drums and bass (Ortega was on acoustic guitar) Ortega opted for a far softer sound than Social Distortion with a lot of attention paid to her vocals.

Neither Social Distortion nor Ortega were particularly compelling when it came to yapping with the crowd. Ness sounded like had said the same lines a few too many lines, while Ortega tried too hard to be bad with the crowd without, of course, ever sounding like she particularly meant it. One suspected it was the audience that shaped her comments, but that's her bad.

Ortega needn't have relied on a few too many needless comments. Her music is strong enough to make you stand up and pay attention.