It seems that a Social Distortion (Social D) concert is close to becoming a semiannual event in Austin. Their last visit in 2010 felt like just the other night. Still, the experience is so memorable because we so rarely get big punk rock touring shows in Austin that you hold on to each moment. The other Social D concert memories come from the great bands that play before Social D. The May 6 concert at Stubb’s was no different as two different but complimentary acts set the night and mood for Mike Ness and company: Lindi Ortega and Riverboat Gamblers.
Lindi Ortega is a Nashville-based singer-songwriter by way of Toronto. Inspired by early country greats like Johnny Cash and classic rockabilly, Ortega was a great warm up for the early crowd in attendance. Dressed in all black with red cowboy boots, Ortega may have appeared to be a petite rockabilly chick with a soft Dolly-esque voice, but her music portrayed a dark hiding behind her small frame. Songs like “I’m No Elvis Presley” and “Little Lie” drew louder crowd responses, but her banter in-between songs is what won the crowd over. The public may not know it yet, but Ortega could be the bastard love child of Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton. That’s what she sounded like to me anyway.
Things were turned up a notch when Austin’s punk rock heavyweights Riverboat Gamblers took the stage. Lead by the dynamic frontman Mike Weibe, they performed a high energy set that included new material from their upcoming release, The Wolf You Feed. “Comedians” and “Loser Neck,” which Weibe explained was a song about “not dressing cool,” were the standout tracks from the new stuff. Familiar favorites like “Maggie Lea” and “A Choppy, Yet Sincere Apology” brought out some sing-alongs from the crowd.
The highlight of the set was when Weibe left the stage to walk into the crowd to grab a cell phone from someone, only seconds later to call someone and sing into the phone, microphone in hand during the middle of a song. Those kind of shenanigans are typical from Weibe and add a great element of humor and “I don’t give a shit, it’s just punk rock” kind of attitude.
Despite the antic, I was disappointed with the Gamblers’ set. To no fault of the band themselves, Sunday’s set was the tamest I’ve ever seen from them. After seeing them live multiple times over the years, including at Warped Tour and multiple Red 7 shows, I expected madness from any punk rock crowd in front of them. There were no intense mosh pits, just a couple of small ones here and there that only lasted for a bit. No one was crowd surfing or getting kicked out. It just felt strange to me.
The crowd woke up once headliners Social D took the stage. These days Mike Ness is worshipped and adored even more so than before, and deservedly so. Arguably the current godfather of punk, or at least cow-punk, Ness was in his usual white shirt and suspenders.
Opening with classic tracks “Bad Luck” and “So Far Away,” pits ensued and things got punk for the first time all night. The rest of the set was not very much different from a Social D greatest hits list, but Ness knows what people want to hear. Those greatest hits sell tickets. He mixes the order up enough to keep things interesting, switching from more bluesy tracks like “Bakersfield” to tracks like Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.” The only disappointment from Social D was not playing “Mommy’s Little Monster.” People screamed for it, they performed it in 2010 when I saw them last, but no dice for old school fans.
Despite the one disappointment, the current reincarnation of Social D put on a fine show Sunday. It was one of the tamer punk rock shows I’ve attended, but not everything needs to be chaos in punk all the time. Punk is an attitude and state of mind after all, not what you wear or how you behave at a concert.