Las Vegas is like a second home to Social Distortion. Since the late 1980s, rarely a year has gone by without a visit from the Orange County, Calif., punk stalwarts, who kicked off their 2012 tour on this occasion. Founding frontman Mike Ness, just two months shy of his 50th birthday, hit the stage looking like a tattooed, guitar-wielding Tony Soprano in all black but for white suspenders, and the band came out guns blazing with alt-rock classics “Bad Luck,” “So Far Away” and “Story of My Life.”
Social D’s trademark rockabilly-meets-Ramones sound has remained primarily the same since Ness launched the band as a teenager in 1978, allowing a newer tune such as “Machine Gun Blues” to fit naturally alongside “Sick Boys,” a song written two decades earlier. It’s a timeless, unyielding formula that has earned Social Distortion fans who have followed the band from adolescence into adulthood, and the crowd that filled the sold-out Joint seemingly included few people hearing Ness’ gritty snarl—one part Johnny Cash, one part Joe Strummer—in person for the first time.
With that level of dedication already in hand, Ness used the encore to give the audience something different, digging into his roots with covers of Hank Williams’ “You Win Again” and the Rolling Stones’ “The Last Time,” which, Ness said, the band hadn’t performed in 25-30 years.
Once Social Distortion finished with Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” the night was complete. And whatever songs the band didn’t play during the 90-minute set, no one in the audience seemed too concerned their absence. They’ll just catch those the next time around. ★★★★☆