This holiday season, thousands of local fans of SoCal natives Social Distortion have plenty to be thankful for. The venerable punk band is back after eight years with a new album, “Sex, Love, and Rock ‘n’ Roll” (Time Bomb), and in the third of six soldout homecoming shows at the Wiltern, they performed with an admirable, energetic confidence befitting a band that has always been seen as an underdog.
Of course, punk rock has had that underdog spirit since the days of Sid Vicious, but after 25 years of being unappreciated by rock ‘n’ roll’s mainstream and watching countless punk bands appropriate guitarist-songwriter Mike Ness’ roar without giving him credit, Social Distortion would almost be expected to roll over. No way. Instead, the band leads its core group of followers — much larger in L.A. than almost anywhere else — through love songs, hate songs, drug songs and rock songs, all played tight, boozy and sometimes bluesy.
Unlike so many other punk bands, including openers Tiger Army, Social Distortion strives for diversity in its music, with keyboardist Dan McGough highlighting both new songs like the rompy “Don’t Take Me for Granted” and older hits like “Story of My Life” (complete with a floor-vs.-balcony sing-off), as well as 1-2-3-4 covers of the Stones (“Under My Thumb”) and Johnny Cash (“Ring of Fire”).
It doesn’t hurt that Ness looks like he’s about half of his 42 years, jumping around and striking rock-star poses that look far more natural than contrived. He may not be punk rock’s mainstream king, but he’ll always be the prince of the underground.