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Mike Ness, the Road Kings
Review of the show at the 4th & B in San Diego, 11/13/99
Reviewed by Jim Twyford, of Web Moment Web Design)
Part 1: THERE WAS ALL KINDA HAIR THERE...
I'm old enough that I was an adult when Social D hit in 79-80. They were remarkable from the start, and the reason is Mike Ness. He said last night, "I grew up with my father listening to Johnny Cash, and my mother to the Rolling Stones...and then I heard The Sex Pistols!" His two solo albums, Cheating At Solitaire, and the recently released Under The Influences, pay tribute to his roots and influences, as he said last night, "Not only in my music, but in the way I live my life". This tour is in support of UTI, and I think just because Mike has so much fucking FUN on stage!
Our seats were 18th Row Center Floor in a venue that holds about 1000. We were there early to check out the crowd. We saw just an amazing mix of hair and clothes and people...greaser MN clones in wifebeaters, Stray Cat rockabilly pompadours with Folsom-cuffed jeans, flattops (with and without wings) in bowling shirts, buzzcuts in faded Warped Tour t-shirts, even a couple of those grayhaired ponytail types. I saw people looking at each other, and I know, thinking... "now what they fuck are THEY doing here?' The answer is, of course, to see and hear what one of American music's greats feels like playing. That's not what someone else thinks he should play, but what he wants to play...as always. The more things change, the more they remain the same.
Part 2: THE ROAD KINGS...
Three guys from Texas just playing the shit out of drums, guitar and standup "Doghouse" bass! No apologies "white trash, low income, trailer park" rockabilly - with an edge! I don't know if any of the tunes were covers, or originals, or what, but they just fucking smoked! They did one tune that was some kind of punk/rap/psychobilly synthesis that had me laughing out loud.
They cooked for about 40 minutes...man, the bass player did this thing where he slapped his fiddle to twirl it on the spike, then jumped up on it, and spun around, riding it - still playing! Guitar/vocals did lots of jumps, played bottleneck with a full longneck, spit, howled, fedback, everything except a yodel. Jean jacket, Folsom cuffs, Lil Abners, shirts with their names in an oval.
I remember roadhouses in Louisiana when I was in the Army, and last night thinking that The Road Kings are a straight-up roadhouse band...no doubt have played many times behind that old chickenwire curtain for free beer and gas money. If their CD is anything like their show last night, it would be perfect road trip music. They closed saying thanks to Mike Ness for having them on the tour. Very good stuff, but still...hmmm, everybody kept their butts in the seats. Will it be different when MN takes the stage...?
Part 3: "Miss me with the cigarettes, the fried chicken and the HEY-ron!"
At about 9:15 the band took the stage. Drums, bass, guitar, pedal steel guitar, and also on guitar and vocals, wearing a pleated pastel blue tuxedo shirt with dark pants, boots, and a cowboy hat...what color? Do you really have to ask? This is Mike Ness, you know! The butts came up out of the seats, and that's the way it stayed. He started playing a MN-flavored country tune, and went straight into a second one without a break. Right at the beginning of that second song, someone standing front and center stage threw a full plastic cup of beer, that Mike only partially deflected with his guitar. Security jumped into the crowd, and Mike didn't miss a beat. After the song, he said, "I want to thank security for saving that little punk motherfucker's life!" The crowd roared, and after a few more comments, Mike took off his black hat, rolled up his sleeves, and proceeded to get busy!
He played, not necessarily in this order: from Cheating At Solitaire, Don't Think Twice, Misery Loves Company, Charmed Life, and Ballad of a Lonely Man ; from Under The Influences, Let The Jukebox Keep On Playin', Six More Miles and Ball and Chain. When he came out for the encore it was Story Of My Life, If You Leave Before Me, and I Fought The Law. He explained that If You Leave Before Me , an Appalachian/bluegrass sort of ballad, was inspired by a bus ride in Orange County where he watched a married-for-life couple in their 80's, the husband lovingly helping his wife board the bus, and gently seating her. It was one of those special moments where I felt a real connection.
He talked a lot between songs, explaining his wish to pay tribute to his influences - Johnny Cash of course, Hank Williams, George Jones, Carl Perkins, and check this out...Frank Sinatra, "whose skinny 130-lb ass could kick Elvis' ass anyday!" He talked about the Brit proto-punks but said, "fuckin Limeys, what have they done lately?" He talked about the Bobby Fuller Four to The Clash connection before playing I Fought The Law. He said , "Without The Clash, there would be no Mike Ness, I'd still be stuck on Led Zeppelin, or some shit". At one point, seeing somone smoking and waving a drink, he said, "No, man, gotta miss me with the cigarettes...and the fried chicken - that shit'll kill ya...that and the HEY-ron !"
I didn't go to the concert to report on it, I went to hear and see and feel the man's music. So, I don't have a complete set list, and I can't remember the band member's namesor the make of their instruments. I liked every song in the set, and there was a striking variety, but it was all unmistakably Mike Ness. Unmistakably late 20th century American music. And it's called country, and it's called western, and it's called blues, and rockabilly, and rock and roll, and punk, and it comes out of the fields and the roadhouses and the small towns and the cities, the suburbs and the farms. It's what we play when we celebrate feeling good, and it's what we play to feel better when we're feeling bad. It crosses boundaries and speaks a universal language and Mike Ness is one of its poets.