Drive-By Truckers | 02.13.08 | SF, CA

Words by: Kayceman | Images by: Adam Smith

Drive-By Truckers :: 02.13.08 :: Mezzanine :: San Francisco, CA

Patterson Hood
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.

Hood, Tucker & Cooley
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."

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.

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pattywagon starstarstarstarstar Mon 2/25/2008 04:42PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


Great review, Kayce. I can't wait to see these guys this summer. I was crushed when I heard Isbell was going solo, but Shonna Tucker is undeniably the silver lining to that cloud. I can't believe it took them that long to put her behind the mic.

RothburyWithCheese starstarstarstarstar Mon 2/25/2008 04:57PM
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Great review about an amazing band!! See you guys at 'Roo and at Rothbury.

cocheese starstarstarstar Tue 2/26/2008 06:00AM
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Ok, I was unsure about going to the DTB next week, but this sold me for sure. I got Isbell this Saturday and then the DTB the next. Isbell was the draw for me to the Truckers, so thanks Kayceman for showing me that the Truckers raw energy is still there in full force!

Arturo starstarstarstar Tue 2/26/2008 08:14AM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

tDB = Disco Biscuits DTB = Derek Trucks DBT = Drive By Truckers DBB = Deep Banana Blackout ABB = Allman Bros. Band OPP = "yeah, you know me"

knibbs Tue 2/26/2008 08:18AM
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excellent write up AK, I need to see this band again it's been way too long.

cocheese Tue 2/26/2008 10:35AM
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yeah i got my letters mixed up there didn't i

Chaloupka starstarstarstarstar Tue 2/26/2008 04:42PM
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"They rawk hard as hell, but they also carry a story and pump it full of emotion better than anyone."

mookiepj10 starstarstarstar Wed 2/27/2008 12:22PM
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great write-up, I was in Seattle for the long weekend of shows and it was incredible. i think the whole Isbell leaving impact needs to be downplayed. i may be incorrect, but he was not even a part of the Band on their first two albums and had limited songwritting on the three he was. I thing his impact was more on the tone of the music, not lyrically. Patterson and Cooley are a dynamite duo

pattywagon Wed 2/27/2008 02:04PM
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Mookiepj10, you are correct, Isbell did not start with DBT, he joined them after they released Southern Rock Opera; so I guess it's only fitting that he doesn't end with DBT. However, I will call you out on his "limited songwriting." With Isbell, it's quality over quantitiy. Personally, he penned my favorite DBT tunes (Decoration Day, Outfit, Danko/Manuel, Goddamn Lonely Love). I honestly believe he's one of the best songwriters out there today - Dress Blues off his solo albumn is a beatifully written song. However, DBT doesn't miss a step in his absence - a reflection on Patterson, Cooley and just how dynamic this band is. I can't wait to see Spooner live...

‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^› {¬¿¬} Tue 3/4/2008 06:38AM
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‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^›      {¬¿¬}

DBT, and BCrowes should tour together, they are very similiar.

I like neither very much myself, but to each his/her own!!

andjammingforall starstarstarstarstar Wed 9/17/2008 07:56PM
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The Crowes should lick the Truckers boots! Milesgone, how the hell do you know if DBT and BC are "very similiar" if you "like neither very much myself"? If you truly listened to both you would understand how light years ahead of the Crowes the Drive-By Truckers are. NO COMPARISON. Chris Robinson is a poser. He's made a career off nostalgia for classic rock that never goes away and now he's some kind of jam-band icon? WTF! DBT! DBT! DBT! DBT! DBT! DBT!

realtybreckenridge starstarstarstarstar Wed 1/7/2009 02:05PM
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Exalant review about an astounding band!!