Words by: Kayceman | Images by: Adam Smith
Drive-By Truckers :: 02.13.08 :: Mezzanine :: San Francisco, CA
Bandleader Patterson Hood likes to call it "The Rock Show." Yet, while it is a spectacle and most certainly a performance, the Drive-By Truckers don't really put on a show. There's nothing contrived or premeditated about what they do. The hours they spend on stage are a reflection of who they are. It's not a show, it's an invitation into their dirty little world. You never feel like they are putting you on. The DBTs have lived every word and every note of every song. Authenticity can't be bought, faked or traded, and believe me when I tell you that the Drive-By Truckers are the real fucking deal.
Perhaps not as conducive to rocking as other venues, San Francisco's Mezzanine is really just a dance club. Sight lines are poor and the setting rather sterile, but they've got one hell of a sound system. Taking time to warm up the room, the early part of the set featured bassist Shonna Tucker taking lead vocals on "I'm Sorry Houston" and Mike Cooley's country-flavored "Lisa's Birthday," both off the band's January release, Brighter Than Creation's Dark.
With his acoustic guitar strapped over his shoulder, Hood grabbed the mic and smiled as he promised, "Couple more slow ones and then we'll throw down some rock." But before the whiskey-soaked ass kickin' could ensue, Hood told the tale of "Two Daughters and a Beautiful Wife." With Cooley on banjo and John Neff's eerie pedal steel, the song became a haunting lament of death and murder and suicide - a family at the gates of heaven. It's rare that a creepy, beautiful ballad can evoke such emotion in a loud room full of rock fans, but that's what puts the Drive-By Truckers over-the-top. They rawk hard as hell, but they also carry a story and pump it full of emotion better than anyone.
Swapping out acoustics for electrics, Hood flashed Cooley a plugged-in smile as they dove into raunchy, guitar-crunching songs about enjoying two women at once ("3 Dimes Down"), living in the nut house ("Dead Drunk and Naked") and the true story of Atlanta's underground rock star Gregory Dean Smalley, who died of AIDS ("The Living Bubba").
There were moments when ex-Trucker, Jason Isbell did come to mind. While his exceptional guitar playing was adequately compensated for by the legendary Spooner Oldham's keyboard and John Neff's soaring pedal steel and six-string, Isbell is an incredible songwriter, and his presence is occasionally missed. There's an interesting dynamic occurring in the Truckers' world today. With Isbell gone, his ex-wife Shonna Tucker's role has expanded exponentially. This is her first time writing and singing for the band, and while she brings a welcome shot of estrogen to balance out all this testosterone, filling the gap left by Isbell is no easy task. However, instead of even trying to replace or cover up Isbell's departure, the Truckers have reverted back to what their core strengths have always been: Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley. These two have been trading songs and tearing up bars for more than 22 years, and they certainly don't need Isbell or anyone else to make this beast roar. Both personally and musically, Isbell was headed in a different direction - just listen to the difference between 2006's angular Blessing and a Curse and what some have called a return to form on 2008's Creation's Dark. The combination of Isbell leaving coupled with Tucker's songs, Neff's pedal steel and Oldham's keyboards have made the Truckers much more of a country rock band that enjoys saturating their amps with that southern thang.
Although Isbell did cross the mind, it was just a passing thought, a notion that was quickly dissolved by a mean tandem of songs off the new album. With the tempo pulled way down, Hood pushed the band into dangerous territory with "You And Your Crystal Meth." Repeating the line, "Ain't exactly a no drug guy/ Just don't dig the way that you get high," you could feel the air grow heavy as tension built under distorted, slow-burning guitars and ghost-like pedal steel. Out from under blood soaked pillows and trailers cookin' meth, Hood led the congregation down "Goode's Field Road." An instant classic for the Truckers' catalog of crumbling American dreams, the story found Hood on his knees, telling us all about dad's suicide made to look like an accident so that mom and the kids can cash in on the insurance money. This isn't the America our parents told us about. The middle class is shrinking, and we're borrowing money to pay for a war no one wants. Our schools are suffering, health care is a myth and it's folks like this who pay the price as they meet their maker on "Goode's Field Road."
Hood, Tucker & Cooley
As the night drew to an end, we found ourselves back on the road. But, this wasn't some dusty dirt path down south. No, this was a state highway. Have you ever been out driving when you know you shouldn't be? You did something bad, but it had to be done and all you want to do is get back to your girl? There's something in your pocket or maybe something in the trunk, and definitely something in your head. You're driving along, just trying to make it home and there he is, that "State Trooper" in the rearview mirror. At that moment, your heart races and nothing else matters. He's behind you and everything could change in the blink of an eye. When Patterson Hood climbs into this Bruce Springsteen character (off Nebraska) he becomes the man behind the wheel. With eyes glowing and sweat pouring off his chin, Hood screamed about losing his patience, right wing politics and pleaded, "Mister state trooper, please don't stop me." The show closing run of "Buttholeville," "State Trooper" and Jim Carroll's "People Who Died" was cathartic, emotionally exhausting and might be the best encore I see all year. There are those in other areas of the vast field of rock & roll that may do things on a higher level, but for what they do, there's no band better than the Drive-By Truckers.
Check out JamBase's exclusive feature on the Drive-By Truckers...
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