SAN FRANCISCO Social Distortion frontman Mike Ness trumpeted
influences from country to punk and back as he launched a solo tour Tuesday,
the same day he released the country-covers album Under the Influences.
At Slim's, the 37-year-old singer/guitarist led a country band through
a rip-snorting set of covers, his own style of Western stomp and a few
Social Distortion favorites, while making clear that the music was around
long before he was.
"Some of you are old enough to remember the Bobby Fuller Four, who wrote
this song," Ness said before playing that band's classic mid-'60s outlaw
anthem "I Fought the Law" (RealAudio
excerpt of Ness version).
"Some of you are old enough to remember [British punk pioneers] the Clash
[playing] this song," he continued. "And let me state for the record,
there would be no Mike Ness if it wasn't for the Clash. Well, there'd be
no Clash if there was no Hank Williams ... anyways, we wanted to make
this song American again."
Country pioneer Williams is one of the forebears Ness pays tribute to on
Under the Influences, released only seven months after his first
solo album, Cheating at Solitaire. He also covers the Carter Family,
Johnny Cash and rockabilly singer/songwriter Carl Perkins in a style that
blends Ness' punk background with the sound of his old-school country
and rock idols.
"Let's do this," Ness said, taking the stage at Slim's, in a black cowboy
hat and Western shirt, launching the band directly into a steady country
The heavily tattooed frontman played a hybrid of country and punk guitar.
His backing musicians upright bassist Brent Harding, guitarist
Sean Greaves, drummer Charlie Quintana and pedal steel playerguitar
picker Chris Lawrence let their cowboy hats down a few times to
play some solid punk rock.
Ness' punk posturing translated easily into cowboy as he crooned, "Give
me your heart/ Give me your soul/ I'll take you/ The devil in Miss Jones,"
on the slow "The Devil in Miss Jones," from Cheating at Solitaire.
Ness removed his hat and sang with country-flavored melancholy, while
Lawrence used his pedal steel to emulate a fiddle on Carl Perkins' slow
shuffle "Let the Jukebox Keep on Playing" (RealAudio
excerpt of Ness version).
Lawrence continued his fiddle impersonation, playing what was originally
a horn part on Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire," which Social Distortion
covered on 1990's Social Distortion. Lawrence took an extended,
melodic break during that song. Ness dedicated his own "Ballad of a Lonely
Man" to Cash, who suffers from the nervous-system disorder Shy-Drager
syndrome and was hospitalized with pneumonia in October.
The crowd ranged from young punks, bikers, greasers and leopard-print-wearing
hipsters to college kids and grownup punk veterans.
"The last time I saw Mike Ness was about 16 years ago," Charlie Webb, 43,
of San Francisco said. "He's still got it. He's the real deal."
On "Ball and Chain (Honky Tonk)" a reworking of Social Distortion's
"Ball and Chain" that appears on Under the Influences, Ness grit
his teeth and lamented, "I've searched now to find the perfect life/
Brand-new suit, brand-new car ... Take away this ball and chain." The
music slowed to silence, and Ness yelled "Motherf---er!" before ending
The crowd sang along with a punk/country take on Social Distortion's
"Story of My Life" (RealAudio
excerpt). Ness sang whiny teen-angst vocals ("high school was
such a bore..."), while Quintana laid a steady stomping backbeat. Harding's
hands bounced off the neck of his upright as he plucked a meaty, thumping
"It blew me away" Stefan Meyer, 27, of San Francisco said. "I didn't know
what he was gonna do, and it was fabulous. I knew Social Distortion were
influenced by a lot of blues and early rockabilly artists, but I didn't
think he was going to pull this off. I'm thinking we might be returning
Ness is scheduled to play Slim's again Wednesday night (Nov. 10). His
U.S. tour will continue through mid-December.
Texan power trio the Road Kings opened for Ness. Singer/guitarist Jesse
Dayton led his band through a set of original psychobilly and a medley
that included snips of Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues" and Junior Parker's
"Mystery Train." On one bebop-flavored jam, Dayton soloed Texas-swing
style, while bassist Jason Byrne stood atop his upright bass to play.