*Photo of Mike Ness of Social Distortion taken by your intrepid blogger
Sometimes you just gotta see a band live to understand what they’re about…
When the Rock Chick approached me about going to a new music festival in town entitled Middle Of The Map Festival, I was skeptical. I mean, it’s late June… fucking hot weather in the Midwest. And besides, I didn’t recognize most of the bands involved. But then I examined the line-up more closely. Two names immediately jumped out at me. Greta Van Fleet and Social Distortion. GVF is my new, classic rock crush and Social D, well, the Rock Chick got me on their bandwagon when we met in 2000 and I’ve been a fan ever since. I also noticed that one of the Rock Chick’s favorite bands, Spoon, was on the list… I could easily discern that this was the reason she wanted to go. Although, in truth she’s a bigger Social D fan than I am, so it was probably a win/win for her…
I have posted a couple of times about Great Van Fleet, (Review: Greta Van Fleet, ‘From The Fires’ LP, er, Double EP or per chance, Greta Van Fleet: Kids Channeling Zeppelin On ‘Black Smoke Rising’ EP). I was so stoked to see these guys live… are they for real? Only seeing them live would tell me. Even my buddy, Drummer Blake texted me and asked if I was going to the MOTM Festival. Was I!?! And then on Thursday I saw the tweet… Danny, the drummer in GVF, hurt his wrist and they were cancelling their appearances in KC and Chicago, prime blues rock country. Goddammit son! I don’t know how he hurt his wrist, my guess would be skateboarding… I’m certain his wrist wasn’t hurt throwing a TV out of the window of the 30th floor of a Hilton like Bonham would have done. Without B&V who will teach the children about rock and roll? The fucking show must go on, son. Suck it up Danny, rub some dirt on that wrist and hit the stage, goddammit.
I was disappointed. The Rock Chick was still pretty excited about Spoon and to tell the truth without the GVF hype, I sort of felt free. I could just drink a bunch of vodka and groove on the tunes. Our friends, Edie and Brad (names changed to protect the innocent) came over and everybody seemed jacked up for the show. My corporate overlords kept me on the phone right up until the time I had to jump in the Uber. Someone handed me a strong vodka drink and I was like, OK, no GVF, I’ll just party. We got down to the festival and the first band I saw, on the second stage, in a parking lot no less, was a band called Y God Y and they were just taking the stage. I was hammering down another vodka when these guys hit the stage. Two keyboards, never a good sign, a drummer and a groovy, hipster lumberjack in shorts on lead vocals and guitar…That guy was extraordinarily hairy… I couldn’t help but think, well fuck… But here’s the weird thing and the great thing about music festivals, they give you exposure to bands you’d never hear. The really hairy lead singer actually had a nice falsetto voice… these guys sounded great. I realized perhaps I’d taken this thing too lightly… Forget about GVF. I grooved to Y God Y for a few great songs and then lurched into the main venue, the intrepid Grinders, which is basically a mulch covered field and hunkered down for Spoon. Y God Y had me grooving.
I will be the first to admit I am the last person who should review Spoon. Short of knowing my wife likes them, I couldn’t have told you anything about them. I’ve heard a number of their tracks, because, as mentioned, the Rock Chick loves these guys. Frankly, I thought they were European. But my dear friend, hummus and chardonnay enthusiast RJ will tell you, “Did you know they’re from Austin, Tx, Ken?” For the 8th time RJ, yeah I got that… Spoon, lead singer Britt Daniel, drummer Jim Eno, bassist (and unsung hero of this band) Rob Pope and keyboardist/guitarist Alex Fischel with touring member Gerardo Larios (keys/guitar) took the stage a little earlier than expected. These guys had me immediately… the first track, which I’d never heard was “Knock Knock Knock.” They have a slinky groove, I can’t exactly put my finger on it, but they are catchy AF, as the kids say.
The lead singer, Britt Daniel, would occasionally pull out his guitar and play a funky rhythm guitar… there was no intense solo’ing. It was more of a groove or a mood. Alex Fischel plays spooky, epic keyboards that Rick Wakeman would envy. The only thing Alex is missing is a big high collared cape. The bass player, Rob Pope held everything together with a tight, insistent bass line. These guys tore it up on their set. I was very very impressed with them. “Don’t You Evah,” “I Turn My Camera On,” and “Do I Have To Talk You Into It?” were all great. Towards the end of the show, they even did this long, psychedelic jam… I’m ashamed to tell you I don’t know what track it was. I’m not qualified to talk about Spoon, and well, vodka. These guys were great. As I staggered out of the venue a great power trio were starting on the Tito’s parking lot stage… I still don’t know who they were, but I stood there mesmerized for two songs… I wish I’d taken it more seriously. Some great music went down Friday night… Sometimes, you just gotta see the band live to understand. I’ve spent the last two days listening to Spoon.
Nursing what the medical profession would call a “hangover” I rode the Uber down to Grinders for Night 2 of Middle of The Map Fest. I got in the venue early enough that I saw a number of songs by an artist I want to check out more in-depth, Nikki Lane. She was awesome. She lives in Austin and sounds like old country. She even covered a Jesse Coulter song. Thankfully I wasn’t using vodka as liberally on night 2… I didn’t see, but I could hear the Sluts play on the parking lot stage. Great punk rock. The only down part of the build up to Social D was Built To Spill whose senseless jams sounded like serial killer testimony set to music… Oh well.
Finally, shortly after 10 pm, Mike Ness and the latest incarnation of Social Distortion hit the stage while a tape recording of Tom Petty’s “Last Dance With Mary Jane” played to honor the fallen… A wonderful gesture. Besides Ness, currently Social D consists of Johnny Wickersham (guitar/backing vocals), Brent Harding (bass) and David Hidalgo, Jr (drums). It was like seeing old friends. These guys do punk/cowpunk/hard rock like it’s meant to be done. They started with a brilliant trio of songs, “Reach For the Sky,” “Highway 101″ (one of my favs…”I believe in love again…”), and “Don’t Take Me For Granted.” Sadly KC took Social D for granted… the crowd was spartan. “She’s a Knockout” turned into an extended guitar jam. They also did extended guitar jams on “Story of My Life,” and “California (Hustle and Flow).” It was so great to see hard rock guitar on a beautiful night in KC.
“99 To Life” brought the country/cowpunk influence in for the night, it was just great. My wife has a cat, named Rhett, and his theme song is “Mommy’s Little Monster” and I was thrilled to hear Social D play that song last night, a first. As was early punk track “Another State of Mind,” which they crushed. “Machine Gun Blues” and “California (Hustle And Flow)” from the last album were both high lights. I just wish Ness would stop being the 10 year cicada, issuing a new album every decade… Mike, get in the studio, we need more guitar rock! Ness introduced “Don’t Drag Me Down” as a song he’d written about racism back in 1994… He said it was sad in 2017 the White House started tacitly making racism ok again… Indeed, Mike, indeed.
After a 12 song, hour long set, Social D left the stage. They came back for a three song encore, the highlight of which was “Ring of Fire,” the Johnny Cash cover… I was tired, I was hungover, but I was very very happy! Social D always brings it people, get out and see them!
That’s my report from the front lines of MOTM… I hope they do this again next year, it was a blast. See you next year folks!