Concert Review by Amber Amick for the Backstage Beat
By December 26th I was completely over my family. I love them, but I was over them. This fact established, I was onboard for the theory behind Holiday Hangover at The Tabernacle hosted by Rock 100.5. Yes, I was enthusiastic about the theory, but I not so much the band lineup.
Growing up mainly in Atlanta, I have always carried a passively indifferent affection for Drivin’ N Cryin’. I was supposed to like them as if it was an unspoken requirement of Atlantans. I knew the hit songs, and I never went out of my way to see them perform. In all of their twenty-five years as a band, I hadn’t seen them once.
All of that changed on a frigid Sunday night. Even in the icy weather and cutting cold the Tabernacle was filling up fast. The crowd seemed jubilant, and ranged across the age spectrum. In attendance were grey-haired dames, punk rock boys, and plenty of forty-something southern ladies with spike heeled boots, tight jeans and over-straightened hair. Also: many, many Very Southern Men, all drinking beer.
Due to a mix up with our press passes, Sons of Bill were already onstage when I arrived with TBB’s incredibly talented photographer, Tom Dausner. We missed most of their set, which was very sad because their five piece band out of Virginia is excellent. The three Wilson brothers and their band have a live sound that is both big and sensitive (like a good man), and their songs range from tender ballads to driving rock. The song ‘Joey’s Arm’ is a lovely, dirgey southern rock number off their 2009 release One Town Away, which I will be purchasing, dear readers. Even if, for some sad reason, Sons of Bill doesn’t make it, their guitarist Sam Wilson is one to watch. He plays soulfully, but still manages to be technical and crisp – an all-too-rare combo.
During the break between opening acts, the beer started to kick in around me, and I was relieved when Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit’s entrance distracted some Very Southern Men from their efforts to impress me. The crowd welcomed Mr. Isbell, a member of Drive-By Truckers from 2001 through 2007, warmly. The band launched into Jason’s songs with serious determination, and were mainly great. The guitarist’s style made me want sit alone and cry in my whiskey, and Isbell’s strong voice and choice of lyrics left little doubt that he is a man proud to be from Alabama.
The house lights came up before Drivin’ N Cryin’ to reveal a venue packed with excited and inebriated fans. All I could think as I waited for Kevn Kinney and his boys to take the stage was, “There’s going to be a fight. There’s going to be a fight, and someone’s going to spill beer on me.” DNC didn’t keep us waiting long, and they tore right into ‘Honeysuckle Blue’ with such vigor that it took me a moment to get over my shock. Where I had expected a sad, past-their-prime sound, I instead found a hit that sounded even better live than it had on the radio. By the second song I was kicking myself for having missed out on this band’s show for all these years.
In their 25th year, Drivin’ N Cryin’ sounds like a fresh band of incredibly professional musicians. They seem tireless and sharp, and they seem like they are having fun. The guitars were spot on, the drums nicely bassy, and the organ solos excellent. Their production was big, loud, and perfectly balanced with a simple backdrop that was often lowered to show slide shows of family photos and a visual retrospective of the band’s history. During ‘Detroit City’ the corresponding music video, filmed at Atlanta’s The Pool Hall, was shown as the band provided the live soundtrack. It could have been cheesy, but in this circumstance it wasn’t.
Kevn is an exceptional presence. His voice, unfaltering and as strong as ever, has always appealed to me because it belongs in punk, but somehow ended up in Georgia. Perhaps because of this his social commentary feels natural, not forced or embarrassing. Mr. Kinney is a showman who draws the audience in, and makes them feel appreciated. His easy graciousness seems to extend to other musicians as well: Kevn welcomed Eddie Kirkland, an 87 year old blues guitarist and singer who is in the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, onstage to lead a song. Eddie stayed onstage to rock the harmonica on the next number. Colonel Bruce Hampton was also invited out to play covers of ‘Spoonful’ and ‘I Just Want To Make Love To You’ with the band.
‘Fly Me Courageous’ started, and I thought the crowd was going to tear down The Tabernacle. Again, the song sounded even more excellent live than it had on the album. Behind the band, a Charlie Chaplin silent film provided a melancholy juxtaposition, and Kevn breaking into an interlude of ‘Smoke On The Water’ seemed perfect.
By the time the band rolled out ‘Straight To Hell’ their fans were whipped into a frenzy. The vocal harmonies on the song were impossibly beautiful, but it was difficult to hear them over the raucous crowd who resembled a swaying, dancing mass in an extremely crowded beer hall at the height of Oktoberfest. Honestly, the music was so good it was hard not to be swept up in their enthusiasm.
Perhaps in homage to their hometown, Drivin’ N Cryin’ played a very long set without a break. They plunged right into their encore material without subjecting the audience to the humiliating, symbolic break during which we are meant to plead with them and barter our souls for their return. I appreciated that. I didn’t want to witness the Very Southern Men begging for an encore.
After the show we wandered around a bit backstage, and found everyone we had the pleasure of talking with to be very kind. As if to drive the point home that DNC has been doing this A Long Time, several of their kids were there, too. Now, when I say ‘kids’ I don’t mean ‘tots’ – they were grown-up adult-type people of their own. Yes, we may all be getting old, but the music still sounds fantastic.