When Social Distortion formed in an Orange County garage more than 20 years ago, there was no such thing as "alternative rock," much less established venues willing to book it. This Tuesday, the newest incarnation of the band is playing the Pageant, a dramatic change in fortune that testifies to the longevity and relevance of these punk stalwarts. Lead singer Mike Ness and friends had no grandiose plans in '83, when they released their seminal debut, Mommy's Little Monster, but it's become a revered chapter in punk's canon. From the pile-driving "I Just Want to Give You the Creeps" to the swagger of "It Wasn't a Pretty Picture," the album's a fiery response to suburban malaise. At the time, punk was a serious lyrical and sartorial challenge to mainstream America, of which Blink-182 and That '80s Show are the sad consequence.
Of course, it wasn't long before the trailblazers moved on, forging a unique country/blues answer to punk's standard surf/twang. In the wake of Nirvana, Social Distortion even had a small taste of major-label success, with their '92 Epic release, Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell. In 1999, Ness cranked out two solo albums -- one of C&W covers and one of bluesy originals -- and toured with a band of blues veterans. The following year, longtime Social Distortion guitarist Daniel Danell died suddenly of a brain aneurysm. For Ness, a new Social Distortion album (still in the works) preceded by a national tour was the best way to honor the memory of his high-school friend, with whom he'd sit by the railroad tracks, drinking beer and dreaming about one day starting a band.