Photo by Christine Marie

SOCIAL DISTORTION

at the Wiltern LG,
November 24

Twenty-six years along, more humans than ever are nuts for this
Mike Ness punk. On the first of six sold-out nights, dudes sported the
Ness slicked-back hair, Levi’s jacket and bulldog strut. Old friends reunited.
Mothers dragged daughters. And they all bawled along with his down-but-never-quite-out
fables.

After the wife of Social Distortion’s touring bassist, Rancid’s
Matt Freeman, went into labor, pal Brent Harding had to learn the songs in one
day. He was solid, and not just thanks to the whipping, slapping drumphatics
of Charlie Motherfucking Quintana, who could make a stuffed panda sound
good. Ness went to work with his usual commitment; critics who slag him for
being a poser (who ain’t?) should recognize that he means every chest thump
and guitar jerk. Owner of a truly distinctive yowl, Ness communicates his love
with a tough melodiousness, street-level directness and gas-station attire that
stamp him as a friend, not a god. From “Mommy’s Little Monster” through
“Prison Bound” and “Story of My Life,” the meaty hits kept
the crowd wobbling the beams. And special electricity leaped from the dare-to-live
exhortation of “Reach for the Sky” and the ’50s drama of “Highway
101” from the new Sex, Love and Rock ‘n’ Roll, a soulfully crafted
salute to deceased S.D. guitarist Dennis Danell.

Though the texture was samey with both Ness and John Maurer slashing
Les Pauls through Marshalls all night, the set kept a head of steam thanks to
a dynamic lighting scheme and Dan McGaugh’s piano and organ flavorings. Plenty
of blue-collar sweat dripped into these suit-and-tie environs — a punching,
choking NBA game even broke out in the expensive seats. All for a tattooed runt
from Orange County who knows how to grab guts. Screw Springsteen.

—Greg Burk

SUNN O))), EARTH, THE HIDDEN HAND

at the Knitting Factory, November 18

A shame this gig was held at the increasingly rundown Knitting
Factory rather than in a natural amphitheater, a Buddhist temple or a hermit’s
cave. Because as modern as this music is — it’s powered by electricity, after
all — if you got to a certain receptive frame of mind, you could hear a kind
of shamanic barding, a practice as old (arguably) as consciousness itself.

D.C.-based Hidden Hand performed post–Black Sabbath heavy rock
concerned with matters political and cosmic-existential. Guitarist-singer Wino,
hair now stretching to his belt, is an underground-metal lifer and a committed
liberal: The set’s strongest material, sometimes sung by bassist Bruce Falkinburg,
confronted war-makers with there-they-go-again weariness and we-will-stop-them
vigor; both the music’s dynamic, unpredictable shifts and its truthful righteousness
resembled (of all people!) ’80s punk heroes the Minutemen — edge dwellers reporting
ominous activity, sages recalling deeper ideals.

Earth’s set, though wordless, seemed to do a similar thing: Guitarist
Dylan Carlson, looking less the father of ambient metal that he is than just
another sensitive greaser, picked out heavy, twanged, blood-dark notes at a
doomed, codeine-like pace, occasionally stretching them into unresolving tones
of enormous, eardrum-bypassing volume in a way that would make Lucifer Rising
composer Bobby Beausoleil proud. The music had a prophetic aura, a calm, almost
resigned heralding of an approaching storm.

The white-and-red-robed guitar duo Sunn O))), joined by laptop
noisenik John Wiese (who opened) and a score of fog machines, seemed to be that
storm: an endless, thick, slow-motion motionlessness that did the old Blue Cheer
trick of turning air into cottage cheese. Monolithic, internally disruptive
and ultimately music-is-the-massage meditative, Sunn O))) reminds us that sound
is a vibration — and then reminds us that matter is, too.

—Jay Babcock

JAY-Z AND FRIENDS

at Staples Center, November 24

DJ Kid Capri warmed up a diverse crowd that included Lakers Kobe
Bryant and Chris Mihm. The lights went down, the Godfather theme swelled,
and Jay-Z (the don) took the stage to rap “99 Problems,” “Big
Pimpin’,” “Hard Knock Life” and the rest. It was a night of mini-sets.
R&B diva Mary J. Blige entered wearing a white outfit and white shades;
Jigga, dressed to match, teamed up for the gut-wrenching “Song Cry,”
then Blige tapped her solo classics “I’m Going Down,” “Sweet
Thing” and “Real Love.”

Method Man and Redman, looking like they were on some hippie lettuce,
smoked a short set that included “Bring the Pain” and “Cheka.”
Referencing the recent death of Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Jay-Z, now in a Biggie Smalls
T-shirt, paid tribute to the deceased Jam Master Jay, Eazy-E, Lisa “Left-Eye”
Lopes, Tupac and Aaliyah as lighters and cell phones lit the arena. Busta Rhymes
busted an energized “Fire It Up,” “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes
Can See” and “Break Your Neck.” Foxy Brown and Jigga duetted
on “Ain’t No Nigga”; DMX followed with “Ruff Ryders Anthem”
and “Party Up (Up in Here).”

First surprise: After introducing Pharrell Williams, Jay-Z, in
a Harvard letterman jacket, suggested, “There’s something missing,”
and Snoop Dogg, fat spliff in hand, strolled out to spit his new hit, “Drop
It Like It’s Hot,” driving the crowd bonkers. For an even bigger surprise,
actor-comedian Jamie Foxx riled the front row with “Don’t make me pull
a Ron Artest on you,” then sang an a cappella “Georgia on My Mind”
(a nod to his role in Ray). “This is my last show,” Jay-Z proclaimed;
when he launched into the horn-based “Encore,” the lyrics said it
all: “I came, I saw, I conquered.”

—Ben Quiñones