D.R.I. has a special affinity for San Francisco, the wayward American Oz for misfits, freaks and druggies. While the band is originally from Texas they notoriously lived in a van and ate at San Francisco soup kitchens in the early 1980s, a period memorialized in “Dealing With It.” The D.R.I. staple “Soup Kitchen Blues” includes vocalist and lyricist Kurt Brecht’s take on hanging with the homeless in the chow line: “Days turn into weeks of hanging out/Got to shake this Haight-Ashbury blues/Growing tired of the Kezar Stadium cruise.”
Considering this, it’s a given D.R.I. will draw a crowd in their adopted city. Add that this was D.R.I’s first show here in six years since guitarist Spike Cassidy was diagnosed and then beat colon cancer and you have a sold out crowd where getting to the bathroom was a 15-minute undertaking. The band’s performance was far from a history lesson; it was a bunch of grizzled veterans showing the kids how to take care of business. The sign warning people not to stage dive was openly and repeatedly flaunted; Harald Oimoen’s bass was nearly wrecked by a crazed stage diver and a kid mooned the crowd before he was kicked off stage. In the midst of this chaos, D.R.I. played a nearly 90-minute career-spanning set hitting all of their best material.
This was certainly a crossover crowd – except not in the traditional metal meets punk sense. Instead, we are talking generational gaps. The young punkers and metalheads (i.e. most of the crowd up front) were about to cross into adulthood; the crowd in the back (those posting Facebook updates on their iPhones) were crossing into middle age. Such is the wide appeal of D.R.I. that a kid with Municipal Waste tee-shirt, a mother with a young daughter on her shoulders and the badass lady with a cane can congregate.
Voetsek was a good choice for the opening slot, and the crowd should have given the local band more props. Vocalist Ami Lawless performs like a possessed Susan Boyle except instead of “I Dreamed A Dream” she’s belting out crossover thrash titles like “What Would Lemmy Do?” Guitarist Ben Reduction, who also plays in the grind duo Population Reduction, looked like a mad Sasquatch and bassist Athena Dread (a schoolteacher by day) is the epitome of L7 meets Runaways cool. Adding to the old-school flavor, Attitude Adjustment played favorites stacked with new material and got the crowd amped for the headliners.
D.R.I. opened with “Who Am I?” and the crowd went batshit crazy; the front row was not for the faint-hearted. Brecht, who at middle age bears an uncanny resemblance to special effects maestro Tom Savini and could easily be an extra in a Tarantino flick, sounded more wizened but as brash as ever. The roll call was classic after classic: “I’d Rather Be Sleeping,” “The Explorer” and “Argument Then War.” Brecht’s socially biting lyrics – most written during the Reagan presidency — seem strangely applicable in a country still reeling from eight years of George Bush. D.R.I. also did justice to songs from their lesser albums, including “The Application” and “Acid Rain” from Definition.
The material from Dealing With It – at one point performed in a ten-minute block – resonated best. D.R.I. didn’t stop except a brief break before the encore of “Violent Pacification” (once covered by Slayer) and a badass rendering of “The Five Year Plan,” Crossover’s opening track. I do wonder if Brecht finds it unsettling to sing “Nursing Home Blues” in his late 40s now that retirement – if there is such a thing in metal – isn’t such a distant thought.
There wasn’t a word mentioned about Spike’s illness that night, so let me crow for the band. Spike not only suffered through chemotherapy and beat cancer but got fit enough to properly play some of the most abrasive, fast music ever recorded. How many people could do that?
Brecht said how much he hated the band’s hiatus because it meant he had to get a real job managing a strip club. The break didn’t matter. D.R.I forged a nearly seamless line between music that’s a quarter-century old and the present and proved that grown men can sing convincingly about teen angst. It doesn’t matter if the show is advertised on an old flyer or a website. Decades can pass and trends can come and go; D.R.I.’s music is timeless.
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