Playing to Live, Living to Play is the second album for River City Rebels. Released in 2001 — right off the bat it’s clearly noticeable that this one is slightly different from their debut record. A change in lineup puts Dan O’Day on frontman duties, shifting the focus of their songs from political issues into singing about the personal tribulations of the working class musician. While the unique edge of their street-punk sound is the horn section, it’s a little bit pushed to the background for this record as the songs take on a moodier rock n’ roll tone. Echoes of The Clash and The Ramones are still present in their sound but funnily enough the feel of these songs remind me of Brya Adams’ “Summer of ‘69”. Perhaps it’s the addition of pop conventions or the grounded reality it’s embedded in. Nevertheless, Playing to Live, Living to Play is a brilliant collection of sing-along tunes celebrating the experiences of a working punk rocker.
“Day to Day” and “Gotta Get It” talks about the mindset of going through the day, trying to juggle your passion while trying to make ends meet. The former talks about how music is “My frustration” and “My salvation”. The latter sung as an urgent mantra to keep going with the grind : “we’re gonna make it / I won’t be jaded / Let’s go tonight.”
There’s also a more personal touch given to these songs as the band talks intimately about their everyday lives. “Small Town Pride” is a rollicking song of appreciation for friends, family and the ups and downs of living in a small town. “6am” talks about the 9-5 grind while asking the question “Do you run your life or does your job run you?”. “On the Train” is where the album title appears in the record – a snapshot on the early days of the band and that feeling of anticipation when you’re about to play a show.
What’s great about this record is how it paints a large enough world using these short songs, enabling us to catch a glimpse of River City Rebels’ experiences and perspectives on their music. Despite the limitations of street punk, the band is able to illustrate a wide array of their ups and downs. “Long Lost Life” goes through doubt and a resolution to keep going strong while “Daddy Was A Drunk” talks about navigating a dysfunctional home life.
Playing to Live, Living to Play is a great step up for River City Rebels. These are songs that can make you sing and feel at the same time, while rocking out to its infinitely catchy tunes.