[14 September 2011]
Drive-By Truckers are among the most seasoned road warriors modern music has to offer, and their performance at Stubb’s was not about to be compromised by a mere hand injury. With his left hand wrapped up tight, front man Patterson Hood explained to the audience that shortly before their tour was scheduled to kick off, he fell on some broken glass in his home. Fifteen stitches later, he realized, “Oh shit, I’ve gotta be in Austin in a week”. Without a hitch, he asked longtime friend and opening band leader Will Johnson of Centro-Matic to learn his parts so that the Truckers could give the usual three guitar assault that comprises their sound. Not only did Johnson do an excellent job filling in on such short notice, this performance marked a unique opportunity to see Hood freed of his guitar duties. With the same sort of aplomb that many have come to expect from the band, Drive-By Truckers played an electrifying and career spanning set that demonstrated the band has no intention of slowing down.
The band has continually released quality albums since 1998’s Gangstabilly, and the setlist at Stubb’s was nothing short of a testament to the fact. Early favorites like “The Living Bubba” and the Mike Cooley led “Love Like This” joined recent standouts like “The Righteous Path” and “My Sweet Annette” during the band’s nearly two hour set. Each song was played as though it was second nature to them, quite an impressive feat considering their song choice usually varies between shows. The band’s intense energy never wavered. Guitars squalled (and twanged when John Neff sat at the pedal steel), the drums were tight as can be, and it all came together to form a wall of sound distinctly their own.
While Hood gets the most credit as the band’s front man, it cannot be stated enough how much Cooley brings to the group. His calm and unassuming demeanor can undermine the fact that he is an exceedingly talented guitar player, which made for several blistering solos throughout the night, and his voice has a timeless quality to it that calls to mind some of country music’s most beloved forefathers. However, much like the Old 97’s Murray Hammond, he is content with letting his partner pen the majority of the songs. But when he took the mike at Stubb’s, his songs received equal amounts of love from fans, with tracks like “Women Without Whiskey”, “Gravity’s Gone”, and the much beloved “3 Dimes Down” garnering their share of enthusiastic whoops and hollers. Hood introduced Cooley as “My partner in crime for 26 years and one month”, and the creative and personal friendship between the two could be felt throughout the band’s entire set.
Elsewhere, there were plenty of excellent moments provided by the rest of the band. Johnson easily slipped into Hood’s shoes, as he didn’t miss a single note while filling in for his injured friend. While he was positioned towards the back of the stage and mostly out of sight, keyboardist Jay Gonzalez’s contributions could be felt in many of the songs throughout the night. Additionally, bassist Shonna Tucker took the lead vocals on “Where’s Eddie”, a slower number that one fan slowly waved his Zippo lighter along to. And, of course, tying it all together was the passionate drum playing of Brad Morgan.
However, the biggest story of the night was Hood, who could have been less bothered by the fact that he was rendered useless on the guitar. He took the opportunity to tap into his inner Johnny Van Zant, walking around the stage and making grand arm gestures like a true star. Sometimes, he would have a beer in his good hand, while at other times he used it play a bit of air guitar. Either way, he was as charismatic as ever without a guitar strapped to his shoulders. This was especially evident during the band’s cover of Eddie Hinton’s “Everybody Needs Love”, which he dedicated to everyone affected by the recent spate of natural disasters that have plagued the country. Towards the end of the song, he held out the microphone to the audience and invited them to sing the refrain, a cathartic moment that the audience was only too happy to oblige with.
After a barn burning extended rendition of “Hell No I Ain’t Happy” finished the band’s main set, the band began their encore with longtime fan favorite “Let There Be Rock”. The celebration of simply experiencing a show despite not having the opportunity to see certain other groups perfectly encapsulated their performance. People may not have gotten to experience a traditional Drive-By Truckers show, but the excitement brought about by getting the chance to see the band in this kind of rare mode was something worth bragging about, and adds another intriguing tale to the bands ever increasing tome of concert lore.