Social Distortion w/Chuck Ragan at The Ryman, 5/20/11


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Since we were told it was potentially The Spin’s last night on Earth as we know it, we figured what better place to spend it than the Mother Church? (It was our third visit to The Ryman in just one week, in fact.) Despite the tiny chance the world would no longer need its fossil fuels, we biked it anyway, because, let’s face it: Parking your car downtown is still a bitch. Well, turns out parking your bike is no picnic either. Not only isn’t The Ryman Auditorium equipped with a bike rack, but their security also insisted our two-wheeler be kept off the grounds entirely. Not too green of you, Mother Church.

Transportation snags aside, we weren’t quite expecting the bulk and diversity of this crowd at all. Aside from your predictably tattooed, chain-walleted, punkabilly dudes and ladies, we certainly weren’t expecting the number of mom/dad/son/daughter combos that made this thing the most family-friendly punk show we’ve seen pretty much ever.

Opener and former Hot Water Music frontman Chuck Ragan met the requisite conventions one needs to convert from emo-charged punker to indie-folk troubador: Acoustic guitar, a throaty, macho growl, and songs about mama, America and the woes of the working man were all predictably in tow. While repeating the same I-IV-V chord progression and waltzy, sea-shanty cadence on nearly every song did little to divert our expectations, Ragan immediately scored at least a few Nashville cool points when we noticed he’d employed Glossary’s Todd Beene on pedal steel.

As far as expectations go, we definitely weren’t expecting seasoned punker Mike Ness and his latest incarnation of the Social Distortion lineup to take the stage to the tune of 2Pac and Dr. Dre’s “California Love” just before launching into 1990’s “So Far Away." Ness has been name-checking country greats as influences throughout the band’s history, so expectations were again met head-on when he bantered at length about the honor of being there. But hey, it is kind of a big deal. We’ll allow it. The band carried on with a career-spanning block of hits that Ness himself described later as “Buck Owens meets The Ramones, don’t you think?” Faves like “Ball and Chain” (greatly influenced by “the music of this region”), “Bad Luck” and “Mommy’s Little Monster” caused just as much ruckus with this batch as tracks off their newest, Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes.

Again, somehow we knew a Hank Williams cover was coming. It was the one from Ness’ 1999 covers record, Cheating at Solitaire: “Six More Miles." After a particularly honky-tonky rendition of 1988’s “Prison Bound," The Ryman’s familiar wooden-floor stomp brought the band, and a couple backup singers, out for a few more. And again, we knew it was coming. Surely they wouldn’t leave Nashville without playing the cover of “Ring of Fire” they featured on their 1990 major-label debut. Nope, they wouldn’t, and this crowd couldn’t let them play it in Nashville without stomping throughout its extended duration.

If it had been their last night in this realm, it was a damn good one for these folks, who — whether they shared our expectations or not — got exactly what they paid for and openly gushed about it all the way out the door.


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