Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Mike Ness!! with Guana Batz at the El Rey. Los Angeles. 12.4.08.

It's sort of curious that Mike Ness would tour as a solo artist these days, seeing as he's now the only original remaining member of Social Distortion. But then, it's a detour from the punk rock that's carried his career, the opportunity to be an all-American figure, singing outlaw love songs. Even this detour is capable of drawing L.A.'s rockabilly kids and greasers out from hiding, though, and prompts fights just as well as it'll draw a circle pit while a cover of Bob Dylan's “Don't Think Twice” is playing.

Forty-six-year old Ness is a flawless act, his best performances mimicking some of his best recordings – for two, “Crime Don't Pay” and “The Devil in Miss Jones,” off 1999's Cheating at Solitaire. These days he's shunning drugs and praising Obama; he's also slick as his hair and speaks and moves with finesse, posing with his Les Paul the way it's meant to be held, playing with the authenticity and heart you'd hope for from such a man. From under his cowboy hat he squinted with a fury lacking the slightest bit of phoniness or irony. Before we could whine for a Social D song, he gave in and ended on “Down Here (With the Rest of Us),” only to return for an encore session, throwing on that hat and completing the night with “I Fought the Law.”

Among the established musicians joining Ness on stage were guitar virtuoso/pedal steel player Chris Lawrence and guitarist Jonny Wickersham, who's been filling a gap in Social Distortion since Dennis Danell's untimely death. Also sharing the stage were English openers Guana Batz, who stretched their set from psychobilly as old as their 26-year history to an unexpected cover of “Johnny B. Goode” and – hell, why not? – a tailored rendition of Led Zeppelin's “Rock and Roll.” As with Ness and his band to follow, everything came out just rough enough, led by a raspy, loquacious Brit named Pip and a beautiful black Gretsch.

Guana Batz:

There looks to be about one video of the show on You Tube.

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