Drive-by Truckers, one of the most accurately named bands, have been working the road over a little over a decade. They have worked it hard and have built a huge fan base as a result. However, you have to also give them credit for several outstanding albums showcasing their quality songwriting, blasting guitar work, and Americana/alt-country twang. The result, as far as this weekend in DC shows, is two sold-out shows at the 9:30 Club. And on Friday night, the band showed they can still deliver the goods with a quite a bit of variety in their songs.
But first, Baltimore’s J. Roddy Walston and the Business hit the stage for a nice 40-minute set of honky-tonk rock’n’roll. I saw them do a very nice job opening for Shooter Jennings and Hierophant last September at the State Theater in Falls Church. They were a great match with the headliner that night and that is also the case tonight. Walston plays the keys and handles the lead vocal duties with plenty of gusto. The guitar, bass, and drums are loud and keep things rocking all through the set. It is real honky-tonk fun that is hard not to enjoy on the weekend for Americana/rock’n’roll fans.
The songs are simple, straight forward, and easy to enjoy. It’s a Little Richard style piano that moves the faster songs and well, the piano pretty much moves all the songs forward. The only question I would have, would be do these guys have the ability to play a longer set and keep the energy and variety high enough to involve the crowd? I think they have a good chance as they work hard, have a lot of sincerity, and have some good songs. They are touring hard and mentioned something about a regular weekly set of shows at the Rock’n’Roll Hotel in a few months? We will have many opportunities to watch this band grow.
Drive-By Truckers have an interesting combination of critical acceptance, a huge fan-base, and lacking a care in the world for what any critic would say. That pretty much shows that these guys are good, they work hard, and maintain a fresh creative approach to what is a seemingly simple style. It could be simple, if their three guitar, keyboards, and rhythm section fell back into an Allman Brothers model. But they have long played around with the many different angles of scorching Southern rock, Alt., even straight country, Americana, and western rock’n’roll.
It came together tonight like it often does at their live shows as they really alternated some loud and wild rock songs with some slower heartland tunes early in the set. The guitarists were trading hot licks and the keyboards were a little low in the mix early, but that was fixed. The sound was strong and mostly clear. It is tough for the vocals to stay with the guitars, but they did for all but the loudest sections. The band was happy with Patterson Hood saying “Goddamn, I’m so glad to be back in this beautiful place. Got to play my two favorite rooms on the East Coast. It’s awesome.” And although he probably had already dipped a bit into the Jack Daniels bottle that he passed around to the band during the set, I think that remark was sober enough to be believed.
They played the usual variety of songs. Hood and Mike Cooley handle the majority of the songwriting duties, but bassist Shonna Tucker gets the George Harrison space on albums for a couple of songs and also got a few here tonight where she handled the lead vocals. After several songs, guitarist John Neff moved over to pedal steel guitar and some acoustic guitars made their way into the songs as well. It kept things interesting, although it was a little long for me until Neff finally strapped on a guitar again. Another personal issue for me is the quantity of Cooley songs where he employs a cliched sing-song lyrical style which has always turned me off on country music. Thankfully, he has varied it a bit on recent albums and his songs on “The Big To-Do” were very good. But the set did start to tire me out a bit as the variety was not as strong late as it was early. They did feature some cuts off the brand new album which was fun. The title cut “Go-Go Boots” had a nice murky vibe that stood out as yet another subtle combination of styles.
But my criticisms are minor. This was a fun show which the sold-out crowd enjoyed as I did. The band makes a lot of records that make Top 50 lists or Top 5 lists most every time they put one out, but it is in front of the stage where the fans really get their full pleasure from this band.