Live Review

Social Distortion, Bad Religion & Anty @ Riverstage

Despite being somewhat of a punk devotee myself, I approached this concert with little to no previous immersion in these prolific bands’ back catalogue or history, or their solid fan bases. Both Social Distortion and Bad Religion emerged from the petri dish of Orange County, California’s punk rock scene in the '80s; a place described by former US President Ronald Reagan as somewhere ‘good conservatives go to die’, Orange County is also responsible for the likes of Agent Orange, The Adolescents and The Offspring. Despite these shared roots and massive crossover of their fan bases, both Greg Gaffin (Bad Religion) and Mike Ness (Social Distortion) admitted they were shocked they hadn’t toured or played together for more than forty years when they took to the Riverstage in Brisbane on the seventeenth of February for the first leg of their Australian co-headline tour.

The iconic ‘cancelled crucifix’ symbol seen on dirty patch jackets the world over loomed large over the local openers, Anty, who revved up an ever-increasing pocket of punters clustered around the stage as the sun slowly set beyond the scrub of the surrounding Botanic gardens. Food, grog and water was supplied in plenty and staff on the ground were clearly prepared for chaos; but the thousand plus audience was relatively well behaved throughout the night.

Bad Religion belted out about nineteen of their all-time best and the crowd reached a fever pitch early. Bad Religion’s singer and front man Greg Gaffin bounced around on stage for a long time and first drew attention to the rare occasion of these two US punk heavyweights touring together after a lifetime apart. Some notable highlights from the Bad Religion set were American Jesus, No Control, and 21st Century Boy. Bad Religion seem to be the bridge between the UK-inspired original west coast punk rock scene from the late '70s and the sound of Green Day: the blistering sound of Californian accents pitch perfect compared to the UK punkers who came before them.

Social Distortion is its own thing. Despite the similarity of the origin, genre and vintage, there is no fair comparison. These two forty-year-old-plus bands were separated at birth and have taken often wildly different approaches to their catalogues over the years. The lead singer, front man and, similarly, only constant remaining member of Social Distortion is one Mike Ness. He’s taken Social Distortion from the early punk rock years through times of experimentation with blues and rockabilly sounds and produced a much earthier sounding punk rock than Bad Religion’s hard and fast skate punk standards. Classics So Far Away and Bad Luck opened their fifteen-track set and Ness took his time to talk to his adoring Meanjinite fans. As the cliffs of Kangaroo Point peered imperiously through the scrub, Ness joyously paid homage to predecessors UK Subs, The Ramones, Sex Pistols and The Dead Boys (amongst some vaguely misheard others). He described an episode from his childhood in the ‘school for flunkies’ where he heard the story of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, neatly introducing the anti-war track 1945.

A more than decent cover of Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game should be duly noted and one crowd surfer seemed suspended mid-air, passed back and forth like a lighter at a different kind of concert. After Social Distortion’s epic anti-racist ballad Don’t Drag Me Down, the band receded backstage for the traditional encore ritual. Coaxed easily back to their positions, Ness struck things up one last time for Social Distortion’s famous cover of Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire. When Social Distortion originally recorded the song, Ness reports that he was often told Johnny Cash wasn’t punk rock, to which he replied, “Listen you little bitch. Don’t ever tell me what is punk and what isn’t [and] secondly, I think it’s my band, not yours. Social Distortion didn’t squeeze off as many hits as Bad Religion in the time allowed – the curfew bemoaned by all, Mike Ness most of all – but they delivered a significant occasion in the history of punk rock in Meanjin city; it’s likely pigs will fly before we have another opportunity to see these two bands live and back-to-back again.

- Matt Hall.


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