It has been forty years since Social Distortion burst onto Orange County’s rising punk scene, originating out of Fullerton house parties and small, legendary clubs such as The Cuckoos Nest and Safari Sams, but tonight they headlined the Five Point Amphitheatre in Irvine, CA. There’s something to be said about a ‘punk show’ in Irvine, one of the nation’s wealthiest zip codes, with no indication of a punk scene anywhere in sight. For one, a ‘punk show’ in Orange County is usually limited to a 200 person capacity club or bar, with a small stage. If you’re a veteran band, maybe you’ll be fortunate enough to share the stage at the Observatory. However, when you’re Social Distortion, one of the genres most successful and longest lasting groups, and you’re back in Orange County, you play the largest venue available — and bring a lot of your legendary friends to open up. The lineup for the show was respectable, but a little excessive, considering bands like Bully and Mannequin Pussy who opened the show, barely had anyone in attendance. It could also be that the capacity for the venue was up to 12,000 and there was roughly only 8,000 people day of —- still a major feat for a local bands homecoming anniversary show, but noticeable throughout the day’s festivities. By night it wasn’t as obvious, and the show filled out respectably, and was clearly not as distracting to the crowd.
Plague Vendor was the first group that started getting an engaged audience and they didn’t disappoint, as singer Brandon Blaine used the audience at the smaller second stage as a trampoline and performed a portion of his set elevated seven feet in the air above the hands of the crowd. Plague Vendor remains one of the few modern punk bands from southern California that is retaining their scene and continuing to grow a fan base despite the longevity of their career. The next group to perform, Black Lips, were the highlight of the festival for me, and were the final band on the smaller second stage. Black Lips played familiar set staples such as “O Katrina” and “Dirty Hands” to an audience whose majority was probably unfamiliar with the band previous to purchasing tickets for the show. Nonetheless, the crowd seemed pleased with the group’s antics and performance. This was my first time seeing the band perform with new saxophonist Zumi Rosow, whose stage presence stands out in the already eccentric band, and was clearly one of the entire festivals few great moments. Other highlights of the set were the group’s performance of “Modern Art” and the Almighty Defenders song, “Bow Down and Die” which closed the set in place of normal set finale, “Bad Kids” the group’s most notoriously known song and probably the track that most in attendance were looking most forward to hear.
Following the Black Lips, Eagles of Death Metal performed on the main stage, and though people began to pour into amphitheatre to get their seats and watch the band, it wasn’t that impressive. One of the set’s few highlights was the presence of Josh Homme taking the stage as an additional drummer. It’s not any fault of Eagles of Death Metal that they weren’t given a great slot, I rarely see audiences respond well to opening bands performing on amphitheatre stages in the day time. The mood was a little better for The Kills, but clearly the crowd in attendance were more excited about The Distillers as well Joan Jett and the Black Hearts following soon after. By the time The Distillers took the stage, the audience had all arrived, the sky was dark, it was colder than normal, the lights were on full blast, and everyone was zoned in. Brody Dalle, despite recently playing in LA earlier this year with The Misfits, kept the crowd fully entertained with familiar hits, City of Angels, Beat Your Heart Out, Seneca falls and set highlight Hall of Mirrors. Their set was tight, with little riff-raff compared to Joan Jett’s. The set cemented The Distillers as an international import still capable of opening shows to arena sized crowds despite little to no radio play or love from MTV; certain “privileges” most of the groups from the 90’s have relied on to retain their relevancy. When Jett and her bandmates, some who’ve been performing together for over forty years, took the stage twenty minutes later, the age of the crowd started to show, but the energy level hadn’t been higher thus far. Jett played most of her solo staples, with the exception of a major surprise, with her opening track, Cherry Bomb. Other notable highlights were Bad Reputation, I love Rock n Roll, and Crimson and Clover.
Social Distortion arrived soon after, with lead singer Mike Ness suited up and warmly welcomed. The set was briefer than I would’ve imagined, but nonetheless the reason most were still waiting out the evening’s festivities. Social Distortion’s local fans embrace and identify with the band on a level nearly unmatched globally, comparable to Bruce Springsteen in New Jersey, or Dropkick Murphys in Boston. Their songs are heard at nearly every major LA sporting event, and still get top billing on ‘flashback weekend’ radio stations, potentially more now than ever. The group celebrated their forty years by performing mostly familiar songs such as Bad Luck, Prison Bound and Dear Lover. The highlight of the evening was probably the debut of two new songs, one currently referred to as “Over you” and the other “Born to Kill”. Considering the fact that Social D release new songs once every 5-10 years, this means a lot more to fans than hearing Story of My Life for the 1,000 time.
Overall the performances were enjoyable enough, certainly for a “punk” festival, but the show overall probably could have benefitted from better vendors, food options, and activities during set change overs. It’s doubtful this will happen again for at least another ten years, so if they’re still going at 50 years, I’m sure they’ll have it down.
Words by: Dave Unbuckled
Photos by: Giuseppe Steel