Drivin’ N Cryin’, Cheap Trick Rock in Richmond

[cowritten with Karen Weis]

In order to experience DnC at its best as a hard driving rock and roll machine, it is recommended that you see them play live. At least twice. Preferably in a twenty-four hour period, if possible. And in two different states. There’s a limited time span in a band’s career when the opportunity arises to see them as both headliner and opening act in the same week. Such was the situation recently when Drivin’ N Cryin’ headlined in Richmond, VA and opened in Annapolis, MD.

The Flood Zone is a small club located in the heart of Richmond’s downtown area. To get the appropriate feel for the place, imagine Hammerjacks at half the size. The opening act, Raging Slab, a hard rocking Skynyrdesque band from Pennsylvania who recently released their second album, took the stage at 10PM. They performed songs from both of their albums, including their current single, “Anywhere But Here,” and a cover of the Beatles’ “I’m Down.” Other than that, the songs blended together in a blur of slide guitar riffs and the writers were relieved when it was over forty-five minutes later.

After what seemed like an eternity of roadies testing equipment, Drivin’ N Cryin’ arrived on stage at midnight in a cloud of smoke. They began the show with several slower songs, including “With The People,” which borrowed a line from the R.E.M. song “King of Birds,” before picking up the pace with “Around The Block Again.” The band’s set list spanned all five of their albums, from their newest release, “Smoke,” to their earliest, “Scarred But Smarter.” By the time they played the title song, the crowd’s energy level had resulted in the formation of a mosh pit, which continued for the next three songs and then restarted periodically for the rest of the show.

The set featured a variety of old and new songs, including half of the new album, including their latest single, “Turn It Up Or Turn It Off” and three or four from the others. Highlights included premieres of new songs such as “If I’d Been Born On The Right Side of the Tracks” and a solo performance at the close of the show by lead singer Kevn Kinney, who sang a song that may appear on his next solo album.

In contrast to the rowdiness of the Flood Zone crowd, the audience at the Naval Academy Alumni Hall was extremely restrained, probably due to the fact that ninety-nine percent of them were midshipmen. To get the atmosphere, just imagine a lame Patriot Center concert with all the GMU students dressed in white uniforms. Drivin’ N Cryin’ came on sharply at 7:30 and promptly launched into a nonstop rocking set.

This set focused more on their well known songs, such as “Fly Me Courageous,” “Build A Fire,” and “Straight To Hell,” which was a change from the previous night in which some of them were omitted. The lighting crew was also more in control, particularly during “Scarred But Smarter,” which gave the song added impact. The pace of the show never let up as the band sped through its forty-five minute set, forcing the crowd to participate.

The headliners, Cheap Trick, played a fairly short hour and ten minute set, including their hits “I Want You To Want Me” and “The Flame.” Absent, however, was their version of “Don’t Be Cruel.” Lead guitarist Rick Nielsen constantly kept the crowd amused by switching guitars at every song, throwing handfuls of picks, and pompously overreacting to the audience. The band’s encore, “Dream Police,” involved half the front row joining the band on stage to sing backup and play guitar and drums.

DnC’s forty-five minutes, while not as fulfilling as their two hour plus Richmond show, was a much more concentrated performance that left one wanting more. But many of the songs were expanded significantly in the club setting and were more enjoyable. In particular, “Indian Song,” which the band always plays live but has never recorded, was enhanced by the story that served as its introduction in the club. Kevn Kinney lamented the visible lack of symbols of Native American heritage in our culture. In addition, “Pushin’ Too Hard” featured an autobiographical vignette from Kevn on his choice of occupation before launching into “So You Want To Be A Rock and Roll Star.”

When the band headlined, they had the chance to kick back and relax and respond when a business card was tossed on stage by licking it and saying, “If you want me to look at your business card, you’d better have a tab of acid on it.” At the Naval Academy, however, they were more tense, with nearly no reaction to the audience, resulting in a faster set.

The first set was looser and more diverse, giving increased exposure to the band’s catalogue, but the second set was more powerful and intense, leaving one breathless. Both sets could have stood on their own, but seen back to back they offered more insight into the unique rock and roll experience that is Drivin’ N Cryin’.

[Originally published in Expulsion, an independent George Mason University student newspaper]