THE DIRTY SOUTH WILL RISE AGAIN: Drive-By Truckers, The Fillmore, Last Night
BY JONATHAN VALANIA FOR THE INQUIRER The Drive-By Truckers write songs about the dirty South, where life is hard and folks die soft and squishy and often emphysemic, dirty deeds get done dirt cheap, and everyone goes to church but nobody really goes to heaven. These songs are like the weeds in the cracks of the trailer park, or the pile of broken beer bottles in the woods, or the lipstick traces on the stubbed-out Kools overflowing the ashtray. Oh, the things they have seen. It also bears mentioning that the Drive-By Truckers totally rock, more specifically they rock in that sweet spot where Lynyrd meets Skynyrd.
As was the case Thursday night at the Fillmore, where the Truckers put on a barn-burning two hour hoedown of southern-fried rock for a rowdy, sold out crowd. The Truckers have two main singer-songwriter-guitarists these days: Patterson Hood, burly and bearded, whose voice sounds alternately like an angry Neil Young or a stoned Don Henley; and Mike Cooley, a tall drink of water who bears a passing resemblance to Townes Van Zandt, and sings like a honky-tonk Mick Jagger. It goes without saying that both these gentlemen totally shred as axemen. Providing crunchy Telecaster reinforcement and gorgeous pedal steel atmospherics was third guitarist John Neff. Anchoring this rowdy crew was drummer Brad Morgan who looks like Allen Ginsberg and never left the pocket and a bassist Shonna Tucker who looks like she was plucked from behind a diner counter but is acquainted with the notion that great bass players should be felt — preferably in the chest — not heard. And just for added Southern gentleman gravitas, legendary sideman Spooner Oldham is playing keyboards on this tour.
The Truckers are supporting the new and thoroughly twangtastic Brighter Than Creation’s Dark, which was generously essayed Thursday night. Personally, I prefer Cooley’s songs — not to mention his twangy snarl and dead-eye for dark, pulpy detail — and “Lisa’s Birthday,” “Self-Destructive Zones” and “3 Dimes Down” did not disappoint. Which is not to say that Hood’s “Daddy Needs A Drink” and “The Righteous Path” didn’t also see the world through the glass darkly, and in fact his ode to the lowlife, “The Company I Keep,” was one of the show stoppers. The other one was, appropriately enough, right at the end and like all their best songs it documents the extraordinary wreckage of ordinary lives. It’s a fairly astonishing song called “Puttin’ People On The Moon,” sung by Hood in the first person, about an Alabama Wal-Mart clerk forced to sell dope to pay for his wife’s chemo.
Opening act — and fellows Athens, GA, residents — The Whigs stoked the crowd with a loud, raucous and thoroughly impressive set that had all the hair-on-fire urgency and last-ditch desperation of the characters in the Truckers’ best songs.
[photo by JONATHAN VALANIA]