The latest Drive-By-Truckers album American Band has proved to be one of their best. The record takes an angrier, more political approach than any of their previous thirteen and racial tensions, the war on terror, gun control and political misgivings at home are all addressed through wonderfully evocative narratives that the band have always excelled at. You really feel like you’re getting your money’s worth at a Drive-By-Truckers show and the diverse quality of these songs is just one reason why this evening’s epic performance delivers in spades.
Tasked with getting the hardcore DBT audience warmed up tonight is Eyelids OR. Past members of The Decemberists, Guided By Voices, and Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks make up their numbers, certainly suggesting that the Portland band are going to be something a bit special. It comes as a bit of a surprise therefore when the first two songs fall a bit flat. Slightly plodding with indistinct vocals, something is clearly missing. Then their third track comes along. It’s a real humdinger, blessed with a cracking pace and a compellingly brisk rhythm and this proves to be the catalyst for the rest of their set which suddenly springs to joyous life. In-between songs, the band are reverential about the iconic bands to have come out of Manchester and these influences appear to have contributed to a particularly vintage British sound at times. The remainder of the band’s set is full of sonic and lyrical invention which climaxes with a mammoth, psyche-out jam concluding their final song, ensuring that the opening two songs have become a very distant memory indeed.
Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley have been the one constant in the twenty years that the Drive-By-Truckers have existed. The pair share songwriting duties on record as well as vocal duties throughout this evening’s show and the approach results in a performance that almost feels like it’s delivered by two different bands. For some reason I’m reminded of Kevin Costner when I hear Patterson Hood sing. He is certainly blessed with an earnest and cinematically emotional voice and this enhances the narrative of tracks like Baggage, which opens the show. Cooley heightens the sombre tone with soaring guitar licks before taking over the vocals for Ramon Casiano. Cooley is more nasal, with a more traditionally southern rock sound, although on this track he actually sounds like The Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle! Hood takes the reins again for Darkened Flag at the Cusp of Dawn, this time accompanied by Cooley’s savagely fuzzy guitar riff providing the foundations for the Alabama native’s distinctly angry songwriting. The very cool boogie of Kinky Hypocrite is Cooley in Jagger/Richards mode circa Exile on Mainstreet and is a hip-swingingly audacious slice of southern rock and roll.
Although the strength of American Band dictates the set list during the early stages of the show, the five-piece dip into six or seven other albums during the evening, ultimately delivering varied and wonderful moments of drama, pathos and theatrics that the whole band contribute to. Bassist Matt Patton’s clear joy at performing with his southern friends is infectious and Jay Gonzalez adds fabulously rich textures on the keyboards, but his most significant contribution comes in his role as the third guitarist and there are several rip-roaring moments towards the end of the show when he delivers the most momentous, paint-stripping guitar solos that bring ecstatic cheers from the the heaving crowd of devoted followers.
The band dispense with the traditional encore, with Hood proclaiming that “I’m too old… if I take a break I’ll probably fall asleep!” and they just keep on rocking right up to the allotted curfew time, eventually calling it a night with an epic mash-up of Hell I Ain’t Happy and Prince’s Sign o’ the Times. In these politically unstable times, this evening’s performance demonstrates just how vital the Drive-By-Truckers have become.
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Review and Photos by Iain Fox | @IainFoxPhoto