IT wasn't a pretty sight, but no body's pretty in punk.
Mike Ness — voice shot, ragged-looking at 43 — splattered sweat on the first few rows, and his kisser contorted into an ugly maw whenever he reached for the high notes.
Yet somehow, the paunchy, balding heart of Social Distortion brought enough swagger to the Nokia Theatre on Tuesday night to prove that punk is attitude, not age.
Ness' unbridled enthusiasm for the bold, old Social D. tunes and the new songs from last year's hit comeback record "Sex, Love and Rock 'n' Roll" made for an intense show.
The mostly male audience, a mix of kids who recently "discovered" the band and longtime devotees who were as tattooed as Ness and favored the Cell Block 2 buzz cut, pounded each other with the kind of violent bulldozer slam dancing that sent many home with black 'n' blue bruises.
Surprisingly, it wasn't a classic number, but rather the new, up-tempo "Reach for the Sky" where the churn of the mosh seemed most intense. The bruisers banged each other as Ness' strumming hand blurred over the strings of his much-abused Gibson Les Paul.
Ness was unusually chatty with the fans.
He thanked Joan Jett and New York Dolls bassist Sylvain Silvain, who came out to support him at this show, and he dedicated one of the newer songs, "Don't Take Me for Granted" (originally written in memory of his late bandmate Dennis Danell), to long-gone Joey Ramone.
Where the band and Ness sounded their best was on the midshow cover of the Rolling Stones classic "Under My Thumb." That one opened with a brief, delicate piano introduction and then ripped the number apart with volume and velocity. That thrash realized Keith and Mick's it's-a-man's-world lyric intent.
Late in the show the band also scored big with the fans during a version of their own oldie "The Story of My Life" and a cover of June Carter Cash's "Ring of Fire," which was made popular by her gravelly voiced husband, Johnny.
Ness, whose vocals are closer to the bottom than the top, was excellent, getting just enough Nashville gutter into his growl to make the tune the night's showstopper.
Still, while this show rocked, there was a bittersweet element to the performance that was like watching a fire burn down to embers. Who knows how many more punk moments Social D. has in it.