“Reach for the sky, ’cause tomorrow may never come!” These lyrics, written by Social Distortion, are one of my life mottos, especially tonight. It’s June 9, 2018, and they’re playing at the Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver, Canada. This song, called “Reach for the Sky” is the opener of the set, and puts everyone in a great mood, hungry to hear what’s next. Same as many other strangers in the crowd, I’m pogo dancing* and screaming my heart out to the song lyrics I know.
Social Distortion is a Punk Rock band from Orange County, California, USA, and has been around since 1979. So it’s no surprise that fans of various ages are in the audience. I’ve been listening to them since 2008, saw them live for the first time in 2009, and proudly wearing my Social Distortion sweater wherever I go. Vancouver is almost 600 km (372 miles) away from where we live, and my main reason to visit is tonight’s show. It’s my first concert in a long time, as I was either broke and/or lived too far away from bigger cities before, where famous bands usually play gigs.
It looks like there are lots of Social Distortion fans in BC, as this show was sold out quickly, so a second one was added for the next day. While Jade Jackson and Aaron Lee Tasjan, the support bands, are playing their set, I make my way to the first row, before it gets too busy. Soon the air in the room is damp from people dancing. Even though the headliner hasn’t entered the stage yet, it’s already decorated with cool stuff, like mannequins, road signs, a siren and a giant dog statue! Then, around 11 pm, Social Distortion finally walks on stage.
So far, Social Distortion’s set consists of older, like “Mommy’s little monster” (1983) and “She’s a Knockout” (1990), but also newer songs, like “Don’t take me for granted” (2004) and “Machine Gun Blues” (2010), so there’s something for everyone in the audience. Lead singer/guitarist Mike Ness is the only original band member, and seems to enjoy getting the most attention. They haven’t published an album since 2011, so later, we are glad to hear a new song, “Over You”, which is going to be on their new album. Yay, something to look forward to!
Here’s a video of “Highway 101”, the second song of the set. Video courtesy of Kieron Grady.
Suddenly, something unexpected happens. I feel like 16-year old me, who used to go to Punk Rock shows a lot, and behaved the same way, is standing right next to me. In my imagination, we’re reunited. Most times, she went to gigs by herself, as many of her friends didn’t share her taste, or lived too far away to join. But she was fine with that, all that mattered was seeing one of her favourite bands live. She lived in a small town in Germany, where, in her opinion, many people were close-minded, boring, and/or conservative. She’d been listening to this music for about a year, which has encouraged her to be herself, and she felt like the scene accepts her. She didn’t care that the general public perceived her as a misfit, as she was focused on enjoying her life, and not obsessing about people’s expectations. Every day, she put on alternative clothing, like ripped jeans, a black shirt, studded belt, Converse, and if it was cold out, a kufiya scarf, and sometimes, she dyed her hair red or black. She was sick of school and most of her classmates, and Punk concerts made her forget about these and other things she worried about. Although she was rather quiet, the aggressive, but passionate lyrics of her favourite bands (i.e. left-wing politics, free-thought, non-conformity, society issues, etc.) spoke right to her. Even though she usually didn’t talk much to the other fans in the audience, it felt like she’d known them for years. To her, it was important to enjoy every moment to the fullest, which she did by drinking a beer and pogo dancing the night away.
A Punk Rock girl through the years, 2005 vs. 2020.
Thanks to this reunion, I learnt that live music is still a big part of my life, a happy place I haven’t thought about in a long time. 16-year old me reminded me to focus on what matters most in life: Just be yourself and don’t care what others think. Do what makes you happy, and fight for your dreams. Don’t let others make you feel bad. No matter how old I get, music is an important part of my life, and will stay with me forever. We’re as close as ever, so I’ll keep going to live gigs in the future, and dress alternatively in my free time, to keep 16-year old (and present) me alive and happy. Although society’s expectations have changed with time, they still don’t matter much to me. I know there’s still a lot to learn in life, but I feel pretty comfortable with who I have become, which has to do with her for sure!
Back to the concert, before Social Distortion is playing “Don’t drag me down”, another fan favourite, Mike Ness hints that it could be a “tribute song” to Donald Trump, which makes me laugh! It can certainly be interpreted that way, although it was published in 1996. Unfortunately, this great show can’t go on forever. The lead singer fools the audience by asking to choose the last song of the set, but then it turns out that their amazing cover of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” was on their setlist all along! He adds that in 1989, his friends asked why he decided to cover this country song, instead of a punk song, and Mike just responded: “Because it’s cool”, and the cheering crowd is going crazy, as if there’s no tomorrow!
It’s way after midnight after the song is over, and I walk outside, still “high” from the music, but also happy to breathe in the cool night air. Like 16-year old me, I didn’t make any friends, which is fine. So I just hop in a cab, that takes me to the HI Downtown Hostel, where I’m spending the night.
As you can probably tell, I had a blast at the Social Distortion concert! Most of the band members, including Mike Ness, are in their 50’s, but this didn’t stop them from playing an awesome show! Apart from playing great songs, I think it’s important that bands communicate with the audience, which Mike did very well! For example, towards the end, he asked if everyone had a good time, and the crowd cheeringly agreed. Then Mike added: “If you’re not having a good time, we’re not doin’ our job!” So I can’t wait to see Social Distortion live for the third time in the near future!
The Commodore Ballroom has been a part of Vancouver’s entertainment scene since 1930, and in my opinion, it was the perfect spot for this show. I prefer smaller over large locations, as it’s more personal, and you get a chance to be close to the stage, without having to pay anything extra. Besides, although the Commodore Ballroom is not fancy, it has everything you need to have a good time: A large dance floor, bar and merchandise stand, seated area with tables, and a coat check area, so there’s no need to worry about your valuables while having fun. So it’s no surprise that many Punk and Rock music legends, like The Clash, Ramones, Nirvana, Pixies, Franz Ferdinand, and The Interrupters, but also local bands, chose this venue for live shows over the years.
*Pogo is a dance associated with Punk Rock shows, where people either jump up and down, or move (dance) around. Occasionally, dancers collide, and it might even seem that they’re attacking each other, which is untrue. Instead, pogo represents a feeling of belonging in a group (i.e. the Punk Rock scene), and if people fall, they’re helped back up instead of getting trampled. Apparently, it was invented by Sid Vicious, the Sex Pistols’ famous bassist, in 1976, during the early Punk days in London, England.
Like many others, I’m very sad that live music is currently off-limits due to COVID-19. So I encourage you to think about your past live music experience(s), and hopefully, that will help to stay patient, until we can meet again at concerts and festivals all over the world!
Until next time, and thanks for checking out my blog today. 🙂