Social Distortion @ Starland Ballroom

SAYREVILLE, NJ—L.A. punk rockers Social Distortion, now entering their fourth decade, put on a magnificent performance in two sets at the Starland Ballroom—the New Jersey stop on a thus far month-long tour. When I had spoken to their frontman, Mike Ness, a few months ago, he had promised that Social D was intent upon putting out a new full-length disc—by my count it will be number seven or eight—not counting EPs, compilations and live albums. This tour seems to be preparation for exactly that purpose.

Never a band to neglect their enthusiastic fans’ desire for a heavy dose of their classic hits, they started off with perhaps an hour of their best loved songs and did not get into the new material until later in the show. Early works like the title track from their 1983 debut, “Mommy’s Little Monster,” were heavily featured in the first set.

The crowd had stood respectfully and appreciatively during the two kick-ass opening bands, but were apparently saving their mosh-pit energies for the headliners, because mayhem broke out soon after they came onstage and only grew more passionate during “Ring Of Fire,” “Ball And Chain” and “Sick Boys.”

The honky-tonk piano added a nuanced effect to new entries “You Can’t Take It With You” and “Still Alive,” both of which fall into the philosophy that Social D’s “punktry-and-western” style seems to express so well. Mike Ness provided plenty of verbal introduction to the songs, and made commentary on everything from his love of New Jersey to his views on the transience of life.

He also did some spoken word narrative during the music, an artistic device that has a powerful effect when it comes to connecting with an audience of loving fans, as did the most endearing number, “Story Of My Life.” A little eight-year-old kid was invited onstage for some warm-hearted Mike Ness banter, but when the music started up again, the pit boiled over into a steady stream of male and female crowd surfers, including more than wheel-chair-bound fan, passed overhead to the delight of onlookers.

At times the crowd parted for a hectic circle of old-school, violent but friendly moshing. The security staff was exceptionally cooperative and understanding as they caught falling crowd surfers and returned them gently to their feet. The passion that this band evokes didn’t die down during either set and foretells an enormous success for their future album, whenever that promise is fulfilled, presumably in 2010.