Like The Hold Steady, Drive-By Truckers take the sound of mainstream American rock and add a big dollop of literary nous. Desperate to overturn the notion that Southerners are a bunch of gator-wrestling, tobacco-chewing inbreds, their Southern-fried country rock albums are more like mini-operas than your average meat-and-potatoes rock bands could ever imagine. Plus, they’ve always worked hard to build a fanbase online, as well as touring, and that’s in evidence tonight. I haven’t seen a hardcore set of fans like this since Mastodon, and what’s more, they are tall. Very tall. Being over six foot myself, I felt like a normal person (although I had to apologise to the guy behind, who thankfully was seeing them the next night as well, and wasn’t too fussed that I’d blocked his view. They are that kind of band). Lovely fans too; the rapport between them and the band was clear to see, with the fans singing along – for once, not an irritant, more a validation that their tales of Southern woe have resonated with people from all walks of life.
Without meaning to descend into cliché, this is the sort of music that if it came on the radio as you were driving along a state road in one of the sweltering, humid states, as the night starts to finally cool, with your arm hanging out of the window and the lightning flickered on the horizon, would make you damned happy. Now, in the interests of total disclosure, I’ve only got one of their records (the 2001 magnum opus Southern Rock Opera, which is as good a place to start as any). So coming to see DBT was more an exercise in finding out if they really are as good live as people say, as opposed to hearing live versions of songs that I love. Would they be the finely-honed Southern Rock Gods that I’d heard about?
The answer to that came in two songs, “The Fourth Night of My Drinking” and the follow up “Get Downtown”. The first sounds like the result of a drinking contest between The Hold Steady and REM, and the other is the kind of country-rock hoedown in which each band member gets to do a little solo. It goes without saying that both were utterly mesmerising; these boys (and gal) know exactly what they are doing, and the years of touring ensure that they do it damn well. So I’d say, without going into much detail about the rest of the songs (that I don’t know), that they goddamn rock. “Hell No I Ain’t Happy” thundered along with its tales of touring woes. “(It’s Gonna Be) I Told You So”, one of bassist Shona’s songs, a country rock stomper like The Jayhawks and the like used to make, got people singing along – not bad for a song from the new album.
Later on, Patterson Hood tells us all about the old Country Soul dude Eddie Hinton, and the band dive into two of his numbers. As you’d expect, they are superb, especially “Everybody Needs Love”, which leaves us all with stupid grins on our faces, band included. Sadly, we had to duck out before the encore, but those stupid grins stayed on our faces until well after we got home.
So, good gig? Yeap. The South might not rise again, but if they did, I’d rather these guys at the vanguard than those Tea Party crazies. Tales of Southern life – warts, poverty and all – told over great rock’n’roll. You know, I think I’ll be buying me some of their records and get myself back into their music. Isn’t that what live music should do?
Note: Track names taken from the marvellous One Of These Days.