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Who should open the new House of Blues? Social Distortion, of course

Mike Ness

Mike Ness, Social Distortion guitarist and vocalist, at Anaheim GardenWalk, the new location for House of Blues Anaheim. Social Distortion will be the opening act for the House of Blues when it opens Feb. 28. 

(Kevin Chang / Weekend)

When the house lights go up for the first time in Anaheim’s newest performance venue, they will illuminate a band that over the years has become synonymous with music in Orange County: Social Distortion.

It’s no coincidence that the venerable Southern California punk rock outfit will christen the new House of Blues at the Anaheim GardenWalk — not far from its previous location in Downtown Disney.

“Why would we have any other band besides Social Distortion?” Tim Jorgensen, the venue’s general manager, asked rhetorically during a recent interview.

“They’re a staple of Orange County,” added Sean Striegel, a senior vice president of music at Live Nation Entertainment, a division of which is House of Blues Entertainment. “They’re one of the original O.C. punk rock bands.”

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Social D — as the group is affectionately known among fans — has roots in Orange County that go back decades, not just to when the band formed in 1978 but to when frontman Mike Ness first moved to Fullerton when he was only a few months old.

The band’s lead guitarist and vocalist is now 54, and aside from one wayward summer in Hollywood, he’s always called the county his home.

“I have a love-hate relationship with Orange County,” Ness said during a recent interview at the new House of Blues Anaheim. “I love the weather, I love the beach and I love being close to the mountains and foothills, but every now and again I’m reminded that it’s a pretty conservative county. I’d like to think it’s changed over the last 35 years, but every now and again I’m reminded that it hasn’t.”

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Orange County, like Ness, seems a little contradictory on the surface. On one hand, it’s the birthplace of Richard Nixon and has had a consistent Republican bent for decades.

This cradle of Southern California conservatism has also spawned generations of head-banging, authority-flaming punk rockers. Some of the greatest West Coast punk acts ever — like Social D, Agent Orange, The Adolescents, The Offspring and The Vandals — have all sprung up within the county’s cozy confines.

“It’s a natural reaction and it’s a constant,” Ness said of the punkish pushback. “It’s like you’re almost always a little bit agitated, in a state of agitation, which is great. I think that as an artist you have to be — no matter whether you’re a writer, a painter, a musician. I mean, if everything is peachy-keen, what’re you going to write about?”

That agitation will be on full display later this month when Social Distortion takes the stage for the first time at the new House of Blues Anaheim with a two-night appearance, on Feb. 28 and March 1.

Those two shows will add to more than 80 shows the band staged at the former House of Blues location.

“To see them open up our House of Blues — it’s magical,” Jorgensen said.

House of Blues

Pyrotechnics and confetti stream through the air after a 4-ton steel water tower is lowered into place atop the new House of Blues at the Anaheim GardenWalk on Jan. 25, 2017. 

(Kevin Chang / Weekend)

 

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Extra features at new venue

In an interview last summer, Ron Bension, president of House of Blues Entertainment, enthusiastically talked about the new location’s state-of the-art sound technology. He said exhaustive studies of how best to design the sound system has produced an environment where there will be “no hotspots,” with music distributed evenly no matter where a patron is located.

During a tour of the new facility earlier this month, Jorgensen spoke almost rhapsodically about its features as well.

At 44,000 square feet, the GardenWalk location is more than twice the size of the old House of Blues in Downtown Disney.

The additional space comes packed with features that had been missing in the old location, including the Foundation Room — an upscale lounge and bar — and four performance spaces.

There was only one stage area at the old digs.

“You either played in the main stage or you played in the restaurant, speaker on a stick,” Jorgensen said of the old venue. “So to have the opportunity to have four stages rocking at one time? That’s nuts.”

The main music hall can hold about 2,200 concertgoers. Another stage area, dubbed The Parish, can accommodate a crowd of 400 and will cater to newer, less-established bands.

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“There’s definitely that stage that’s needed for these up-and-coming artists and we get to see them first,” Jorgensen said. “That’s great.”

Ness agrees.

“I love the fact that they have a small room for up-and-coming acts,” he said. “I think that’s a really thoughtful gesture as far as supporting young acts.”

House of Blues

Ron Bension, president of House of Blues Entertainment, stands on one of four stages during a tour of the new House of Blues at the Anaheim GardenWalk on Jan. 25, 2017. 

(Kevin Chang / Weekend)

 

Away from Disney

Another benefit of moving the House of Blues from Downtown Disney, Jorgensen said, is that it removes restrictions on what kinds of acts can be booked. As part of the Disneyland Resort — which also includes Disney California Adventure and Disneyland — Downtown Disney has an image to uphold.

Now, explicit hip-hop acts like Tech N9ne and Wu-Tang Clan are no longer off the table.

“I think the sky’s the limit on what we can do with this new space,” Jorgensen said.

Ness is also pleased that the House of Blues has separated from the House of Mouse.

“Nothing against Disneyland — I took the kids there when they were little and it was always a good time — but I don’t think the Disney atmosphere is very rock and roll,” he said.

“I’m honestly surprised they let Social Distortion play,” he added with a laugh, “because I would say our shows are an R-rating.”

House of Blues

Members of the media stand in the music hall room during a tour of the new House of Blues at the Anaheim GardenWalk on Jan. 25, 2017. 

(Kevin Chang / Weekend)

 

‘We’ve got to open this up right’

Ness, who has decades of touring and performing under his belt, both with Social D and as a solo artist, said he and his bandmates have to do their part to get the new House of Blues off to a rockin’ start.

“It’s a very high compliment,” he said of being asked to open the venue. “I guess it’s kind of an honor to be asked and we’re just looking forward to it. We’ve got to open this up right.”

The new era for the House of Blues precedes a new chapter for Social Distortion as well. Ness said he’s started writing a new album and is looking forward to getting back in the studio.

Looking back on the band’s near-40-year run, what does he think is the secret to Social D’s sustained success?

“I don’t know, man,” he said with a laugh. “If I knew what that was, I’d be bottling it up and selling it.”

And with all he’s accomplished in music, what keeps him going?

“I just still love it more than anything,” he said. “I’m most comfortable up there on a stage with a guitar in my hand. That’s my living room.”

House of Blues

A three-dimensional art piece of rock star Eric Clapton on display at the new House of Blues at the Anaheim GardenWalk.

(Kevin Chang / Weekend)

 

Show Schedule

Feb. 28 — Social Distortion

March 1 — Social Distortion

March 2 – Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals

March 3 — Chase Rice

March 4 — Chase Rice

March 5 and 6 Korn

March 7 — Thrice & Manchester Orchestra

March 8 — Hey Violet

March 8 — George Thorogood & The Destroyers

March 9 and 10 — Café Tacvba

March 11 — Daya 

March 11 — Adventure Club

March 12 — Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness

March 13 — Billy Idol

March 14 — The Growlers

March 15 — Jason Isbell

March 16 — Julieta Venegas

March 17 — Wu Tang Clan – Return To The 36 Chambers

March 18 — 311

March 18 — Wrabel

March 19 — Death Cab For Cutie

March 20 — The Kills

March 21 — “Big Sean: I Decided Tour 2017"

March 23 — Common

March 24 — Agent Orange

March 25 — Yellowcard – The Final Show

March 26 — Save Ferris

March 26 — Josh Abbott Band

March 29 — Sleigh Bells

March 29 — Eisley

March 30 — EXCISION

March 31 — Reel Big Fish

April 1 and 2 — The Growlers

April 5 — Carter Winter

April 5 — Frankie Ballard

April 6 — Badfish

April 7 — Mayday Parade

April 8 — The Damned

April 9 — The Maine

April 11 — NF

April 13 — Simple Plan

April 14 and 15 — Ramon Ayala

April 16 — Tech N9ne

April 17 — Shinedown

April 21 — Berlin

April 23 — Pixies

April 25 — Denitia and Sene

April 28 — Sammy Johnson

April 28 — The Aggrolites

May 5 — Cinco de Mayo with Ozomatli

May 5 — Sondre Lerche

May 6 — Blue October

May 12 — Suburban Legends and Pilfers

May 14 — Real Friends

May 18 — Testament

May 20 — Jack Ingram

May 23 — The M.E. Tour featuring Marsha Ambrosius and Eric Benét

May 24 — Catfish and the Bottlemen

June 9 — The Blasters

June 9 — Biz Markie

June 10 — Metalachi

Sept. 11 — Santana

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luke.money@latimes.com

Twitter: @LukeMMoney


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