Review: Three Nights of the Drive-By Truckers

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12/29/30: “This Highway’s Mean”
It’s -6 degrees outside and I have just spent a week with my wife, my one-year-old son, and my wife’s family in Northern Vermont at their family farm and up at Jay Peak Ski Resort, just south of the Canadian Border. My wife’s folks and their family are wonderful people, and they are fervent, almost religious about their skiing. Jay Peak is completely different than the mountains out West I grew up skiing on—the icy, rocky and often incredibly windy and cold peak has an almost cult-like following among Skiers in both Canada and the Northeastern U.S.

We have over 600 miles ahead of us to get back to DC in time for me to unwrap my Christmas present—three nights with Drive-By Truckers at the 9:30 Club. I have had the privilege of knowing and spending time with the Truckers for a better part of a decade. It’s likely that I have seen over 60 DBT and Patterson Hood solo shows since 2003. We make it to D.C in 9 hours 30 minutes flat. I am at the club by 9:30 p.m. to catch the last few songs of Lucero’s opening set.

Upon arriving at the 9:30 Club, I am quickly informed that my long journey will not go unrewarded—the folks I talk to before the show in and around the band are expecting some truly great shows. Energy and anticipation are high. DBT, and Patterson in particular, really, really love playing the 9:30 Club. It’s the perfect room for them—and right from the start, they do not disappoint.

I have never known DBT to do a set-list. While I am sure they have a really good idea of the direction of each show, and the material likely to be featured, my take is that they don’t like to constrain themselves ahead of time. This is a credit to their musicianship and how well they know each other. This is one of the reasons that DBT shows have such incredible live energy—it’s also why their body of live work is simply without peer.

Over the past several years, marked by their work with Bettye LaVette and then their release of Go Go Boots, the band has taken a decidedly soulful, R&B direction. In many ways it is very natural, given their Muscle Shoals roots. This feeling is very strong as the first night set opens up featuring a tight but smoothly flowing “Wednesday” from a Blessing and a Curse. From there the band kicked it over to Mike Cooley for “Three Dimes Down.” They continued with “Life in the Factory” and followed by “’72 (this Highway’s Mean)”. While both these songs are DBT staples (classics even) the feeling was a bit different than in times past—maybe it just felt like the playing was more relaxed. This was followed by “Santa Fe”—a ballad that I have never heard before live. Cooley then did “A Ghost to Most,” a song that would be featured—and rocked – all three nights.

Midway through the first set of the first night it hit me—that if you are lucky you find things in life that truly give you pleasure and take you to a higher place. This is most certainly why year after year avid skiers flock to the cold and windy Jay Peak. I am quite confident it is why the good folks in DBT brave the challenges of the road and Rock ‘n Roll to do their thing better than anyone else in the business for so many years now. It is most definitely why I have been drawn so magnetically to the dark and rocky formation that is Drive-By Truckers since I first saw them at ACL in 2003.

The band closed out the set with “Lookout Mountain” (a song which probably opened most of the shows I saw back in the Decoration Day era), “Zip City” (pound for pound the greatest DBT song ever), “Let There Be Rock” / “Shut Up and Get on the Plane” and finally one of their most classic punk rock cover closers: “People who Died.”

“A World of Hurt”
I actually had not planned on going to the Night Two show, but after being blown away after Night One I had to swing by (thanks to a Hall Pass from my lovely wife) after watching the Caps beat the Buffalo Sabres soundly at the Verizon Center. It took considerable energy to rally after the festivities the night before. Night two featured 13 songs which I consider to be “older” (Dirty South and before) which suited me just fine. Another interesting opener which I have never heard before to start a show: “4th Night of My Drinking.” Highlights included “Goode’s Field Road,” a song recorded during the Decoration Day sessions that didn’t make it onto that epic album. The older recording is more up-tempo, with more twang, and remains one of my absolute favorites.

This performance to me felt more like a traditional DBT concert, stacked with great songs from across the songbook. Also great Cooley / Patterson balance, with Cooley performing lead vocals on 11 of 23 songs they played.


NYE 2011: “Pound It Out”
The last time I saw Booker T Jones and DBT together was on the Fairgrounds at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival 2009. It turns out that was the last time they actually played live together. Tonight was to be a different kind of animal. There was a lot of preparation and practice to make ready for the night’s performance featuring their special guest. The opening number: “Lookout Mountain,” while completely old school, had a totally different complexion with the infusion of Booker T, as did all the songs that night.

After the third number, “Potato Hole,” the title track from their Grammy-winning release of the same name, it was on. The band stayed with the soul vibe after this, performing Eddie Hinton’s Classic “Everybody Needs Love.” The middle of the set featured the skill and genius of Booker T— with a fantastic run through of Otis Redding’s “Dock of the Bay” and classics such as “Oh Pretty Woman” and “Bad Sign,” featuring Booker T on vocals.

From here the band then cut-back sharply into more familiar territory, ripping “Sink Hole” and then slowed it down with the Cooley Ballad “Check Out Time in Vegas.” The set was closed out with another Otis Redding song—“Can’t Turn You Loose” featuring Booker.

The encore—EIGHT songs in all—was basically a set unto itself. The night was both historic and incredibly unique for the band. Perhaps this is why they chose to close out the run with the haunting and beautiful “Angels & Fuselage.” For many years, this was a rarity live, but recently the band has decided to include it in the encore.

For a band that tours as relentlessly as DBT, a three-night stand, where you can sleep in the same bed each night and your friends and family can come and enjoy the shows can be a godsend—especially at the tail end of the year. This was certainly the case at the 9:30 Club on the last three nights of the year. There is actually a little bit of time to breathe, digest what has come to pass and reset for the next part. Perhaps this is why I lament the death of the two-set show for the most part in American live rock these days. On the last three nights of 2011, the band, their friends, and their fans were treated to a world class three course musical feast.
It was definitely worth the drive.

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