Social Distortion's performance in Anaheim on Monday, Nov. 19, 2007 played out exactly how fans of the Orange County troupe might expect. There was a mix of old and new, with Mike Ness and company offering up 16 songs over the course of 90 minutes.
Kicking off a series of 15 shows by the band at the Mouse House that will include dates later this month, throughout December and in early January, Social Distortion is a band that feeds on its adoring audience. The capacity crowd Monday was just what the band ordered, singing along, pumping their fists in the air and – for a couple of dozen brave souls – slamming around in a giant mosh pit in front of the stage for most of the set.
And as fun as it is to watch the band's multi-generational audience get into Social Distortion's pioneering mix of early punk, Johnny Cash-styled country and roots rock, the five musicians on stage displayed that they are up to the challenge of fueling the crowd's thirst without ignoring their roles as musicians.
While the performance of the early '80s punk classic "Mommy's Little Monster" was strong, it was actually Ness' more recent and mature material that lifted the show to something far exceeding the group's shorter, more straightforward shows at Hootenanny.
The performance of "Reach for the Sky" and "Highway 101" offered the best one-two punch of the night, and elsewhere in the set "Winners and Losers" and the newly-penned "You Can't Take it With You When You Go" showcased Ness at his most reflective.
That is not to say Social Distortion didn't rock. The band did, with drummer Charlie Quintana's powerful style helping propel classics such as "Prison Bound" and "Story of My Life" with defiance.
Ness used his powerful baritone to sing the full-size rockers, but was surprisingly emotive while singing a piano-anchored version of Cash's "Ring of Fire" and the old Hank Williams nugget "Six More Miles (To the Graveyard)."
Like Ness, singer-bassist Lee Rocker celebrates his past even while moving confidently about in the 21st century. During his 30-minute opening set, the Orange County rocker focused on recent material that has continued to bring him out of the long shadow of the Stray Cats.
Opening with "Lost Highway" and "Gone" from 2007's "Black Cat Bone," his eight-song set also featured the beautiful "One More Night," a song as wonderful as anything released this year (now, if only commercial radio would champion his art).
Rocker also thrilled the crowd when he balanced on his upright bass like an acrobat while leading his solid four-man band through a wild "Crazy When She Drinks."