Social Distortion/Mustard Plug - Live in Grand Rapids (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Social Distortion / Mustard Plug

Live in Grand Rapids (2018)

live show

It had been quite a few years since I’d last seen Social Distortion, but I’ve seen them quite a few times over the years. The first time was in 1992, when they were touring behind Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell. I was already a fan, but that amazing show made me a fan for life. I know in recent years it’s become fashionable to bash Social D, but it’s ludicrous. Somehow they’ve become the poster boys for everything that’s wrong with punk rock. Mike Ness and company have produced a body of work that doesn’t need defending. It’s a body of work that will certainly outlive its small minded critics.

Anyway, I had been looking forward to this show. I was relieved that Ness’ recent fisticuffs with a Trump loving crowd member didn’t cause problems with his tour schedule. Plus, both my brother and sister were going. This would pretty much guarantee a good time. It would also pretty much guarantee that we’d drink too much. This self fulfilling prophecy starting with some serious pregaming at a nearby dive bar. The show was at 20 Monroe Live in downtown Grand Rapids on Saturday, October 13th. Drinks are outrageously priced at the venue, so it’s always a good idea to get a head start.

The two openers were (alt?) country. I checked them out ahead of time, and they both seemed pretty good. (I must be getting old.) Catching them still wasn’t a high priority. We missed Pony Bradshaw and caught most of Will Hoge. (I always feel like I need to see at least a little of an opener to get my money’s worth.) We spent most of Hoge’s set getting drinks, peeing and catching up with some old friends. The best thing about going to old man punk shows might be running into people you don’t get to see as often as you’d like.

Social Distortion have been using a similar stage setup for several years now. It looks more or less like a vintage shop. (Ness owns one in real life.) There are various ‘no parking’ signs, a big plastic dalmation, and some other Americana type crap. There’s also a giant backdrop with the Social D logo surrounded by roses and their familiar skeleton driving a classic car. The other three guys in the band took the stage first. Eventually Ness came swaggering out to thunderous applause. I couldn’t help but notice that the drummer was fully decked out in LA Dodgers gear. For those of you who don’t keep track of such things, the Dodgers are currently in a heated playoff battle against my boyhood favorite Milwaukee Brewers.

They opened with “Reach to the Sky”, Ness’ tribute to his fallen longtime friend and bandmate Dennis Dannel. It was the first of three newer (post 2000) songs. “She’s a Knockout” was the first older song of the night. “Mommy’s Little Monster” and “Another State of Mind” went all the way back to the earliest days of the band. They were both great, but seemed a little slower than the original versions. The biggest surprise of the night was probably that they played two new songs. “Over You” and “Born to Kill” both seemed solid. Hopefully we don’t have to wait a decade for a new record.

I thought that the band was more energetic than the last time I saw them in a club. They put on a great show, even if the setlist was a bit peculiar. There was no “Story of My Life”, “Sick Boys” or “Ball and Chain”. There was no “I Was Wrong” or “When the Angels Sing”. They didn’t play a single song from Prison Bound. The large, boisterous audience didn’t seem to mind. At one point Ness told a heckler that he could stick his other eight fingers up his ass. We all held our breath as he stared the guy down, and waited for him to go into the crowd throwing blows. Alas, nothing came of it and they peacefully finished their satisfying 85 minute set.

Social Distortion setlist:

Reach for the Sky

Highway 101

Don’t Take Me for Granted

She’s a Knockout

Bad Luck

Mommy’s Little Monster

Another state of Mind

Machine Gun Blues

Over You (new)

Far Behind

California (Hustle and Flow)

Don’t Drag Me Down


Born to Kill (new)

Angel’s Wings

Folsom Prison Blues

Ring of Fire

After the show, we took the five minute walk over to the Pyramid Scheme for a nightcap in the front bar. Local heroes Mustard Plug were headlining an all ska show in the back. By the time we arrived, the door to the venue was unmanned. (In other words, we didn’t have to pay the cover.) We went in and caught 45 plus minutes of the Plug. It was definitely a more celebratory atmosphere than Social D, and the crowd was far less annoying. While I don’t skank, I enjoy watching other people do it. It also gave us an excuse to have a couple more beers, which we certainly didn’t need. The highlight of their regular set was, of course, “Beer (Song)”. The encore included Rancid’s “Roots Radicals” and their own oldie, “We’re Gunna Take on the World”. Mustard Plug sent us singing out into the night. Overall, the two shows combined were about as much fun as I’ve had in Grand Rapids in forever.