Mike Ness at The Stone Pony

Filed under: Live Music,Reviews — doktorjohn May 16, 2008 @ 2:16 pm

Asbury Park, NJ

Mike Ness, frontman for the classic punk-hardcore band Social Distortion and virtuoso guitarist, now performs and records mainly under his own name. His touring band is made up at least partly by members of Social Distortion. On May 16, 2008 he brought his tour to this landmark club, a venue with which he was sufficiently familiar to spark his comments about changes in the urban environment of that decaying Jersey shore town.
Heavily-inked and hair slicked back, Ness took off his Stetson hat and opened with one of his originals, “The Devil in Miss Jones” and then proceeded quickly to an upbeat cover of Bob Dylan’s “Ain’t No Use.” He continued for over an hour during which he accomplished his miracle of converting an audience of hard rockers into country-and-western fans for a night. Homage was paid to pioneers Hank Willliams with “All I Do Is Cry,” Carl Perkins with “Let the Jukebox Keep on Playing,” and Johnny Cash with “Ballad of a Lonely Man.” There were, of course, Mike Ness originals, too, including “Cheating at Solitaire,” “The Rest of Our Lives” and “Misery Loves Company.”

The mainstay of his repertoire remains autobiographical like the Social Distortion classic “Story of My Life”, but Ness also revives bluegrass classics and depression-era standards. Encores included his own “Charmed Life,” Mike’s expression of gratitude for his survival and success, rendered without irony, which says a lot about the heart of this great artist. Ness called for recognition of the openers, Jesse Dayton and his band, authentic representatives of the style that Ness, former punk rocker, in his artistic maturity has now adopted.

In the end he included two standards, “I Fought the Law” and “Ring of Fire.” The lyrics to Ness’s body of work, including both his solo material and that of Social Distortion, have laid bare the painful tribulations which he survived: substance abuse, the untimely loss of a friend, shattered relationships. On this occasion he didn’t perform his signature anthem “Ball and Chain.” Perhaps he no longer needs to plead that they be taken away. But in “Dope Fiend Blues” he reminds us that he “sold my soul to the Devil, and then I stole it back.”

While his early biography may have been a tale of woe, his grateful acknowledgement of how well things have turned out is shown by his resolute and grateful homage to “roots” Americana. Mike Ness has earned the status as a national treasure.