What more perfect way to celebrate and mourn simultaneously the demise of Salt Lake City's best concert venue (I said it, you didn't) than by getting sweaty and grungy with the nation's best punk-rock band (ditto)?
Unlike two other shows (including the awful metal mess of Vio-Lence), this concert really was the farewell for the Speedway Cafe, which is being turned into refrigerator space (strange justice there, one supposes, since some Speedway shows certainly seemed to get up into the 100-degree mark), and no one could have picked a more fitting tribute.Originally scheduled for either the Speedway or the surrounding streets, the Fairpark Horticulture Building instead played host to the red-hot L.A. group Social Distortion, an up-and-coming Washington band and a great local trio.
A bit surprisingly, only the latter experienced any sound problems with the cavernous horticulture building, which has mangled mixes of other good bands. Instead, Social Distortion sounded like maybe it should have been playing this site a long time ago.
I've said it before and I'll say it again, this West Coast quartet is the United States' version of the Clash, only seven years after that wonderful band's demise.
Mixing Western music influences, including folk, country, blues and rockabilly, SD is certainly one of punk's all-time best-sounding units. Playing live won't do anything to tarnish that reputation either.
Concentrating heavily on songs from the band's self-titled LP, SD sounds much like its vinyl version, only with more energy and vitality. Opening with "So Far Away," a (dare I say it?) lovesick ballad, guitarist Mike Ness proved he can belt out a tune with the best of them.
One of the best things about this band, though, is the way it manages to mix messages (many of which never stoop to ham-fisted preachiness) with genuine personal emotions and experiences, something that many similar bands are either loathe or unable to do.
For instance, "Drug Train" is an anti-drug ode somewhat inspired by Ness' fall into chemical dependency and recovery, while "Ball and Chain," although accessible and sounding upbeat, is a heartbreaker ("Take away this ball and chain/I'm lonely and I'm tired/And I can't take any more pain.") Both sounded terrific.
Also, the band's cover of Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" - which when played live features spectacular drumming from Utah native Chris Reece and a fierce twin-guitar attack from Ness and Dennis Danell - has even surpassed the Wall of Voodoo cover as my favorite version (I also thinks it's probably the most appropriate for the dour lyrics).
Olympia, Wash., quartet Screaming Trees, which sports a great environmentally conscious moniker, appears to have been inspired by late '60s and early '70s rock, punk and heavy metal bands.
Alternately resembling the Doors (including Jim Morrison-esque vocals), Billy Idol and MC5, the band actually manages to sound coherent, if not spectacular at times. Among the gems in their set was "All I Need Is You."
It's rare that a local band is specifically requested to play for a headlining act, but that's what the Strangers were asked to do by Social Distortion.
Playing a diverse mix of old-fashioned rock 'n' roll, punk and garage rock, the band actually managed to win over some in the initially lethargic crowd, especially with its cover of the Who's "The Kids Are Alright."