Drive-By Truckers :: 04.09.05 :: The Fillmore :: San Francisco, CA

Drive-By Truckers :: 04.09 :: Fillmore, SF
There are few sure bets in Life. Hopeful gamblers, social misfits, and Social Security check-toting seniors pilgrimage through the desert to Vegas to toss dice and pull the one-armed bandits in hopes of hitting the Jackpot, all the while marveling at the lavish splendor which they will eventually bankroll with their hard-earned Benjamins.

The 49ers were a lock for the Super Bowl in the '80s, and the Allmans playing a "Whipping Post" encore was as sure a bet as any in the '90s, but all that's changed now. Someone told me they saw the Brothers play a smokin' "Layla" encore to end the Beacon run in March, and the Niners haven't so much as sniffed the playoffs since the 2002-2003 season.

The one sure bet in music these days may be the Drive-By Truckers. Doesn't matter if they're playing at home at the 40 Watt Club in Athens or across the country for their debut at the legendary Fillmore in San Francisco, the Truckers always seem to bring the heat. The three-guitar attack and Jack Daniels bottle that circulates around the stage during their set proves what most everyone in the audience already knows – this is a rock show, night in and night out. Bring ear plugs.

Hood, Isbell, Cooley :: 04.09 :: Fillmore, SF
What's unique about the Truckers in my estimation is their ability to stay within the context of their sound while still maintaining their individual identities as songwriters. Think Lennon and McCartney or even the late Michael Houser and John Bell. Mike Cooley writes great rock songs - tunes like "Marry Me," "Zip City," and "Carl Perkins' Cadillac." Patterson Hood is a brilliant lyricist – his writing on "Heathens," "Putting People on the Moon," and "The Living Bubba" is masterful. Despite being the youngest member of the band, Jason Isbell is an old soul. His songs - "Outfit," "Goddamn Lonely Love," and "Danko/Manuel" sound far older than his years, akin to a disillusioned, 21-year-old Gregg Allman writing "Dreams" from a perch atop the Hollywood Hills just before he left L.A. to return to Florida.

Patterson Hood :: 04.09 :: Fillmore, SF
The other thing that keeps me coming back to see the Truckers is the growth of the band since I first saw them shortly after the Southern Rock Opera was recorded in 2000. The band at that time, which featured Cooley, Hood, drummer Brad Morgan and former bass player and guitarist Rob Malone, was raw and in your face. Southern Rock Opera was a dark, haunting meditation on Southern life in the '70s conceived by Hood during a road trip between Athens and Muscle Shoals while driving a U-Haul with former producer and bassist Earl "BirdDog" Hicks. Their live performance of it was downright scary. I bought the CD immediately.

Hood & Isbell :: 04.09 :: Fillmore, SF
While today's Truckers are no less the ruffians they were five years ago, the band is more well-rounded and, dare I say, professional. One only needs to listen to early albums such as Gangstabilly and Alabama Ass Whuppin to recognize this. The turning point, in my opinion, was the arrival of Jason Isbell. Whereas Hood and Cooley cut their teeth as musicians playing hundreds of shows a year on the road, Isbell polished his talents as a songwriter and guitarist doing session work in the infamous Muscle Shoals studio scene. The two worlds collided with "Decoration Day," the first song Isbell penned for the band just days after joining them on the road. The tragic story of two warring families in the Deep South a la the Hatfields and McCoys, "Decoration Day" is a lyrical gem with poignant songwriting and vocals from Isbell backed by the Truckers' three-pronged guitar assault. Isbell's searing slide solo in the song's outtro is like a bolt of lightning amidst the thunderstorm of the rest of the band. It's damn near perfect.

Shonna Tucker :: 04.09 :: Fillmore, SF
More than anything else though, the Truckers are just plain fun to see, and Saturday's show at The Fillmore did not disappoint. Opening with a raucous "Devil Don't Stay," the band torched The Fillmore for the next three hours with their blistering brand of Southern rock. Highlights included a great cover of Otis Redding's "These Arms of Mine" and a spooky version of "Danko/Manuel" that was no doubt haunted by the ghosts of the legendary musicians that had graced the same stage so many years before.

Drive-By Truckers :: 04.09 :: Fillmore, SF
The brown liquor was flowing, and eventually my eyes grew dim. We stayed for the encore, and then headed home for some late-night Jameson's. As I pontificated on the redneck genius of the Truckers with a head full of Irish whiskey, I realized that only three years ago the band was scared shitless that Lynyrd Skynyrd wanted to kick their ass over the content of Southern Rock Opera when they were offered the opportunity to open a few dates on the Southern rockers' spring tour.

"After all, we are dealing with Lynyrd Skynyrd here," Hood said backstage that day at William Floyd Amphitheater in Anderson, SC in June 2002. "I was scared we'd get into our dressing room the first night, and they'd be waiting here to jump us."

"Or better yet, wait until we all got inside and torch the place," Cooley said as he sucked down his cigarette. "I had visions of them hammering boards across the door of our dressing room. I mean, fuck: we are dealing with Lynyrd Skynyrd."

From scared shitless to sure bets, the Drive-By Truckers have traveled the long road to success and near-sellouts at the Fillmore. The horizon is vast, and the future looks bright as America's Most Dangerous Band keeps trucking down the highway.

Words by: Andy Tennille
Images by: Dave Vann
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[Published on: 4/22/05]

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mbh1013 starstarstarstar Fri 4/22/2005 01:08PM
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Great story! Wonderful photos Mr. Vann

Cirrities starstarstarstarstar Sat 4/23/2005 01:34PM
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Now that is a great piece of writing!