Social Distortion & Flogging Molly With The Devil Makes Three & Le Butcherettes
Date: Tuesday, September 10, 2019
Time: Doors: 4:30 PM // Show: 5:30 PM
Location: Lauridsen Amphitheater
All Ages | Presented by First Fleet Concerts
Here’s how you know you’ve made it in the music business: You’ve stayed strong for three decades on your own terms, on your own time, by your own rules, and over that time your influence has only grown. Each of your albums has been stronger than your last. You’ve been brought onstage by Bruce Springsteen, because he wanted to play one of your songs. You’ve seen high times and low ones, good days and tragic days, but every night you give 100%, and every morning you wake up still swinging.
This is the short version of the Social Distortion bio — the long version could be a 10-part mini-series. But over the past 30 years, the punk godfathers in the band have all but trademarked their sound, a brand of hard rockabilly/punk that’s cut with the melodic, road-tested lyrics of frontman Mike Ness. Their searing guitars and a locomotive rhythm section sound as alive today as they did in ’82, as do Ness’ hard-luck tales of love, loss and lessons learned. “The most common thing I hear is, ‘Man, your music got me through some hard times,’” Ness says. “And I just say, ‘Me too.’”
Hard Times And Nursery Rhymes (produced, for the first time, by Ness himself) is the band’s first record since 2004, but the break hasn’t changed them much. It maintains Social Distortion’s key components — an all-but-perfected mix of punk, bluesy rock n’ roll and outlaw country — but it also finds them stretching the boundaries of their signature sound. “I didn’t want any one style of writing,” Ness says. “I didn’t want it to be all heavy, like “White Light, White Heat, White Trash.” I wanted some heavy and some light. I wanted some fiction and some nonfiction. I wanted versatility.”
That’s evident right away. The record’s first vocal track, “California (Hustle and Flow),” finds Ness and the band not roaring out of the gate so much as swaggering behind a chunky Stones-style locomotive groove. “This record has a lot of my influences,” Ness says, “But how far you go with those influences is up to you. With this record I wanted to go a little farther. I wanted people to hear that second track and realize, ‘Wow, this is not just another Social Distortion record.’” (For good measure the track has hints of “Ball and Chain” and the Stones’ “All Down The Line” and, for the first time, female backing vocals. “I’ve been listening to records for years with (backing vocals), and I was like, “Hey, why don’t I do that?” Ness laughs.)
Not that the band’s punk foundations have eroded; the first single “Machine Gun Blues,” a piece of gangland fiction set in 1934, could hail from “Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell.” But the record is evidence of the band’s ability to evolve. “Bakersfield,” a setlist staple in recent years, is a waking-on-the-railroad-tracks story of wrecked love, forgiveness and Buck Owens; it closes with a spoken-word verse to make Merle Haggard smile. “Can’t Take It With You” sports a Jerry Lee-style piano solo that scorches paint. And set closer “Still Alive” is a soaring carpe diem with an added emotional weight that can’t be described or duplicated.
“The album is reminiscent to me of “Somewhere,” but it also has some of the darkness that “White Light” had. It has some of the flavor of “Mommy’s Little Monster,” Ness said. “I think it’s very signature. We’ve never been afraid to evolve and show people what we can do.”
Now in their fourth decade, Ness and Social Distortion have officially done one of the most non-punk things possible: They’ve failed to burn out.
Mixing Springsteen’s factory-overalls ethic with Southern California punk energy and black leather, Social Distortion formed with Ness and high school buddy, the late Dennis Danell, in the late 1970s; the group broke in 1983 with the thrashing plate of punk and displeasure “Mommy’s Little Monster.” Their 1988 follow-up, “Prison Bound,” hinted at a sonic change to come, and by the band’s self-titled 1990 record and 1992’s “Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell,” their sound had solidified into the instantly recognizable brand of rock n’ roll that’s defined them since.
For Hard Times, Social Distortion consists of Ness and longtime guitarist Jonny Wickersham, along with bassist Brent Harding and drummer David Hidalgo, Jr.
These days the band is rarely off the road for long, and continues to grip fans who have been around since “Mommy’s Little Monster” while drawing new ones who discover the band through hand-shot YouTube clips. “I see people bringing their kids to shows,” Ness says. “And I see kids bringing their parents.”
Social Distortion is a mix of potent power, appeal across all age brackets and a genuine satisfaction at reaching as many people as they have. “I write songs for myself, and I hope that other people will like them too,” Ness says. “I think every record you make is showing people what you’ve learned over the past few years. It’s showing people, ‘This is what I know.’”
The social and political awareness that drives Flogging Molly’s music is never more prominent than in their upcoming new release LIFE IS GOOD — a strikingly powerful album and it arrives at a strikingly key time. The sixth studio album by the renowned Celtic-punk rockers now in their 20th year is mature, well crafted, equally polished and almost aggressively topical. It is filled with rousing songs that are timeless in their sentiment, but directly related to today’s most pressing concerns: Politics, the economy, unemployment, planned boomtowns gone bust, immigration policies gone awry, and much more.
For singer and lyricist Dave King, it may be the lyrical couplet contained within the surging “Reptiles (We Woke Up”) that points toward the album’s central theme. “We woke up,” sings King, “And we won’t fall back asleep.”
“The thing is, there are things changing,” says King. “That’s why I wrote that line, ‘Like reptiles, we’ll all soon be dust someday.’ It’s quite scary, especially for somebody who has children these days — bringing up family in this environment of who’s welcome and who’s not welcome. I’m talking about the cultures in America and the UK — especially American immigration.
Life Is Good thus serves as a wake-up call to those who have simply stood by while far-reaching political decisions were made that had serious impact on them. And, significantly, it also serves as notice that the time for action is now.
And people are indeed taking action, adds King, which is a crucial point.
“I think especially with things like government — I think we all tend to fall asleep a little bit when it comes to other people that are making decisions for you. I think we should be the ones influencing the government to make these decisions. It’s a great thing that we’re now taking to the streets again. And it’s a positive thing.”
Imagery abounds on Life Is Good, and one of the most memorable images might be found in “Adamstown,” the saga of a planned community west of Dublin that came to a halt in mid-construction a decade ago when the Irish economy crashed — and left little more than a ghost town in its place.
“It had a huge negative connotation to it,” King says of the eerie, unfinished settlement. “But now it’s starting to turn again, people are starting to move there, businesses are starting to open, and there is hope.”
Thematically, hope and inspiration are a major part of “The Hand of John L. Sullivan,” a rollicking track about the legendary “Boston Strong Boy” who was the first ever heavyweight champion of gloved boxing from 1882-1892. Sullivan was a hero to many, and his story has a cultural significance that fits squarely within the story Flogging Molly want to tell with Life Is Good.
“He came from an immigrant family to Boston, and they brought their family over to try to make the best possible world for them,” says King. “We live in an environment right now where that doesn’t seem to be what should be allowed to happen, you know?
Recorded in Ireland and produced by multiple Grammy Award winner Joe Chiccarelli (U2, the White Stripes, Beck), Life Is Good is by any measure a formidable return from Flogging Molly, an assessment with which Dave King fully agrees.
“It’s been a tough few years for a lot of us in the band. Dennis (Casey, guitarist) lost his dad, I lost my mother, and there have been certain issues, pertaining to sentiment, in a lot of the songs. But we just try to do the best we can. We’ve always had fun getting together and coming up with the new songs, and it’s still that way.
Here we see what’s uniquely distinctive about Life is Good, as the gravity and weight of these themes never overshadow the sheer fun and exuberance felt in each song. For the message is delivered and built on the backs of boisterous and barreling live touring.
“We’re known for our live shows,” says Dave King. Writing albums has always been a vehicle for us — it’s been a means to get people onto the dance floor. And that’s kind of the way we’ve always approached it, no matter what.”
“The one thing we are is a positive band,” adds Dave King. “When people come and see our shows, it’s a celebration — of life, of the good and of the bad. And we have to take the good and the bad for it to be a life.”
FLOGGING MOLLY IS: Dave King (Lead Vocals, Acoustic Guitar, Electric Guitar, Bodhran), Bridget Regan (Violin, Tin Whistle), Dennis Casey (Acoustic Guitar, Electric Guitar), Bob Schmidt (Banjo, Mandolin), Matt Hensley (Accordion, Piano, Concertina), Nathen Maxwell (Bass Guitar), Mike Alonso (Drums, Percussion).
The Devil Makes Three
The power of words isn’t lost on longstanding Americana triumvirate The Devil Makes Three— Pete Bernhard, Lucia Turino, and Cooper McBean. For as much as they remain rooted in troubadour traditions of wandering folk, Delta blues, whiskey-soaked ragtime, and reckless rock ‘n’ roll, the band nods to the revolutionary unrest of author James Baldwin, the no-holds barred disillusionment of Ernest Hemingway, and Southern Gothic malaise of Flannery O’Connor.
In that respect, their sixth full-length and first of original material since 2013, Chains Are Broken [New West], resembles a dusty leather bound book of short stories from some bygone era.
“I always want our songs to unfold like short stories,” affirms Bernhard. “You could think of them like the chapters of a book. Of course, they’re shorter and maybe more poetic. This was a much more personal album about what it takes to be an artist or writer of any kind—and what you have to do to make your dream possible. It was really the headspace I was in. It might have something to do with getting older. You start reflecting on life and the people around you. I was doing that in these songs. That’s what makes the record more personal. I’m pulling from these things. Some of it is about drug addiction. Some of it is about the things you sacrifice. Some of it is about the detrimental things we do for inspiration. Nevertheless, they all have some sort of narrative.”
The Devil Makes Three’s journey up to this point could be deemed worthy of a novel. Their self-titled 2002 debut yielded the now-classic “Old Number Seven,” “Graveyard,” “The Plank,” and more as they organically attracted a diehard following through constant touring. Longjohns, Boots and a Belt arrived in 2003 followed by 2009’s Do Wrong Write between a pair of live recordings, namely A Little Bit Faster and a Little Bit Worse and Stomp and Smash.
2014’s I’m a Stranger Here marked their first debut on the Billboard Top 200 as the 2016 “hero worship homage” Redemption & Ruin heralded the group’s second #1 bow on the Billboard Top Bluegrass Albums Chartand fourth consecutive top five debut on the respective chart. The latter garnered widespread acclaim from the likes of Entertainment Weekly, American Songwriter, The Boston Globe, and more. Over the years, they casted an unbreakable spell on audiences everywhere from Lollapalooza and Bonnaroo to Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, Hangout Fest, and Shaky Knees.
As the band began writing ideas for Chains Are Broken, they veered off the proverbial path creatively. Instead of their typical revolving cast of collaborators, The Devil Makes Three stuck to its signature power trio—with one addition. This time, they invited touring drummer Stefan Amidon to power the bulk of the percussion. The presence of a drummer remains most amplified as the band seamlessly translated the spirit of the live show into a studio recording and busted the rules even more. And for the first time, they retreated to Sonic Ranch Studios in El Paso, TX a stone’s throw from the Mexican border to record with producer Ted Hutt [Gaslight Anthem, Dropkick Murphys].
“We broke a lot of rules in making this record,” smiles Bernhard. “We’ve always done whatever we wanted to, but there were still some things we wouldn’t try. Those fears went out the window. Ted was a big part of that. He stayed with us throughout the whole process from pre-production until the final moment of recording. He pushed us outside of our comfort zone. We’ve never had this experience. So, we got really creative under pressure, which ended up being super fun.”
These songs harness a spirit of freedom. “Pray For Rain” gallops along on a propulsive beat punctuated by a bluesy twang, before a chorus that’s akin to a spiritual uprising singing “I’m praying for some rain tonight.”
“It’s a song about the state of the world now,” says the frontman. “It hopes for some sort of positive change, which I think is totally possible. At the same time, it considers the past and how we got here. You want to wash away what’s there.”
Elsewhere, “Deep In My Heart” hinges on a menacingly melodic admission, “Deep in my heart, I know I’m a terrible man.”
“We see it in the news all the time,” he continues. “People’s public personae fall apart, and everybody sees who they really are. We have an ability to choose to be good and evil at any time.”
The simmering groove and hummable hook of “Bad Idea” recounts how “sometimes we know we’re doing something stupid, but we just can’t control ourselves.” Elsewhere, “I Can’t Stop” offers up an elegiac memoriam to a handful of friends who left too soon.
Nodding to a favorite author James Baldwin, “I Can’t Stop” represents an emotional climax for the album. The author’s quote—”Ultimately, the artist and the revolutionary function as they function, and pay whatever dues they must pay behind it because they are both possessed by a vision, and they do not so much follow this vision as find themselves driven by it. Otherwise, they could never endure, much less embrace, the lives they are compelled to lead”—hangs heavy over it.
The tune itself centers on a heart-wrenching plea to on old buddy, “I don’t know why you would do what you were doing…”
“It’s mostly about a friend of mine who overdosed and died,” sighs Bernhard. “When we were teenagers, we’d get together, get high, and play guitar. I learned so much from him, because he was naturally talented, but he got so deep into doing all kinds of drugs and died. In some ways, it’s what he ultimately wanted, but I miss him so much. He was the primary motivation. It’s also dedicated to our friend Dave from Brown Bird who died of cancer. He and his wife were among our closest touring companions. It’s strange how we all don’t make it or survive to meet up in old age. People die. We keep going. There’s nothing else to do.”
Fitting snug like a ceremonial death mask, the cinematic expanse of “Paint My Face” underscores an oddly uplifting message—there may be something after all of this.
“‘Paint My Face’ talks reincarnation and unlived lives,” he states. “It partially discusses being a musician or an artist. It’s like a letter written to a child I don’t know saying death is not the end, as I believe, it’s the beginning of another life.”
In the end, the words and music on the album leave a long-lasting imprint. “I’d love for people to feel inspired,” Bernard leaves off. “Some of the songs might be sad, down, or depressing, but they inspire me. I feel better through the process. I hope you do too.”
Family incites joy/PAIN, satisfaction/GUILT, and love/HATE in equal measure.
Life happens in between the emotions we feel for/OR against those closest to us. The fallout radiates across our lives and ultimately defines us. Le Butcherettes—Teri Gender Bender [vocals/guitar/piano], Alejandra Robles Luna[drums], Rikardo Rodriguez-Lopez[guitars] and Marfred Rodriguez-Lopez[bass}—dissect the meaning of family on their fourth full-length album and first for Rise Records, bi/MENTAL. Equal parts cerebral poetry, art assault, and primal punk cacophony, these 13 tracks represent the Guadalajara-born and El Paso-based group at its most incisive and infectious.
“We all have two extremities,” exclaims Teri. “Black and white are on opposite sides. When I was little, I had a family. Now that I’m older, it’s fallen apart by conflict, emotional corruption, blackmail, and sickness. What does that mean? What does it do to us? We’re always battling with, what I like to call, ‘The Other’. When things aren’t right with your roots, you feel like you’re on the edge of disconnection. You start doubting yourself. They were the roots of my everything…but I’m not that little girl anymore. I have to start making room for myself. I can’t let this torment me. The pendulum swings back and forth. Reason will be lost and gained again. That’s bi/MENTAL. Now that I think about all of this, it makes sense I came up with the name in the shower,” she laughs.
Over the past decade-plus, Teri and Co. quietly laid the groundwork for a statement of this magnitude. 2015’s A Raw Youth attracted acclaim from Consequence of Sound, Magnet, Classic Rock, and more. An infamous live force, the frontwoman defied house rules (and gravity), hanging upside down from the rafters at a storied Coachella set followed by stage-wrecking displays everywhere from Lollapalooza to Fun Fun Fun Fest. Handpicked to support Jack White, At The Drive In, Faith No More, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Deftones, and others, Le Butcherettes earned the blessing and anointment of rock’s vanguard. The songstress also joined iconic Garbage leader Shirley Manson and Brody Dalle on the cover of Nylon, while Iggy Pop, Henry Rollins, and John Frusciante immediately accepted invitations to collaborate. Spreading their influence into the mainstream, “Eli” soundtracked an episode of HBO’s True Detective, and “New York” became the theme for the 2015 World Series opener.
Never content to sit still or get comfortable, Le Butcherettes teamed up with iconic Talking Heads member Jerry Harrison [No Doubt, Violent Femmes, KD Lang] behind the board as producer. After three albums produced by Omar Rodríguez-López of At The Drive In and The Mars Volta, the new creative environment added another dimension to the sound.
“I stayed at Jerry’s house up in Northern California for pre-production,” she recalls. “He, his wife, and their little dog have the most amazing family vibe. The whole atmosphere was very green and really amazing. I was going through a lot, but I felt like I had a family during this time. I was able to be vulnerable and in-your-face at the same time. With all of his wisdom, it’s as if Jerry fathered the record. I think my dad would’ve liked him.”
Themes of internal and familial strife hang over the opener and first single “spider/WAVES” [feat. Jello Biafra]. A ticking timebomb of riffs clicks and clacks as her howling falsetto swings towards a searing screech punctuated by spoken word from the Dead Kennedys frontman. Appropriately, she dons a Chichimeccan warrior outfit in honor of her grandmother in the accompanying music video directed by award-winning duo Noun.
“Lyrically, it’s like this big delicious spider has its wave,” she elaborates. “In a way, we’re all caught in it. This thing wants to devour as much as it can, but you have to make sure you’re okay. You’re trying to protect yourself from something that wants to get in. It goes along with the idea of the record. It helped me go through the emotions. I realized it might be more about me than, ‘The Other’.”
The schizophrenic barrage of “mother/HOLDS” [feat. Alice Bag] unites two generations of disruptive goddesses as Alice Bag and Teri formally meet on a recording. Chilean superstar and “ultra girl crush” Mon Laferte lends her massive vocals to the Latin-tinged “la/SANDIA.” Everything concludes on the abrupt catharsis of “/BREATH.” It’s the ultimate emotional exorcism conjured by theatrical delivery, rock ‘n’ roll ambition, and punked-out psychedelic provocation.
“Music is my outlet,” she admits. “I’ve never been to a therapist before. I don’t talk to my friends about this stuff. Music keeps me away from trouble. It keeps my mind free. It makes me feel connected to God like everything will be okay at the end of the day.”
In the end, bi/MENTAL will undoubtedly make you feel too.
“If you listen, I hope it moves you—even just a little bit,” she leaves off. “I’m not asking for much, maybe just a finger. That’s all I could ask for.”