Around 10:00 Friday night, Drive-By Truckers strolled out onto the 9:30 Club stage. Singer Patterson Hood raised his arms, puffed out his chest, and screamed: “Goddammit, I feel GOOD.” By 1 a.m., Hood and his fans were drenched in sweat twice over, the band was wrapping up a raucous cover of punk hero Jim Carroll’s “People Who Died,” and “good” had become an understatement of epic proportions for the way the night felt.
I’m a relative virgin when it comes to Drive-By Truckers. I’d heard an album or two, had a few songs in heavy rotation for a while (especially those from 2006’s “A Blessing And A Curse”), and generally figured them for a top-of-the-line blend of alt-country/southern rock/something else mysterious. For a girl from the most rural part of Toby Keith-loving, Shania Twain-blasting, Keith Urban-revering central Pennsylvania, one who spent the better part of the late-’90s running as far as possible from everything tainted with even a hint of country, artists like Drive-By Truckers have been a huge part of my late-in-life realization that, wait, hold the phone, you mean country isn’t a dirty word? Oh hell, what’s next, cats and dogs living together?
Good music is good music. Whatever the heck you want to call it, whatever label you want to give it, the best artists get their inspiration across genres, and so do music fans. Some might call this mostly Alabama-bred crew country, but I know their sound by a different name: good, soul-grabbing, eardrum-throbbing rock and roll that stays in your head long after you’ve poured out into the street at 1 in the morning into a 95-degree summer night. Rock. And. Roll.
This is a band that references Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Clash with equal ease. (Literally: They did both in Friday’s version of “Let There Be Rock,” which you can hear over at the Internet Archive, along with the rest of the the show. Thank you, Internet!) Along with hitting highlights of their own catalog DBT brought out a cover of Springsteen’s “State Trooper,” Eddie Hinton’s “Everybody Needs Love” and the above-mentioned version of Carroll’s “People Who Died.” All had an unmistakable DBT stamp on them, and, like a good cover should, all have me spending the week digging back into the original artists’ catalogs, too, like Alice going down the rabbit hole picking at threads of songs and influences and connections. (You want the music nerd’s review of the show? Go check out my friend Sean Moores’ recap over at Hickory Wind.)
Hood and partner Mike Cooley traded off on vocals through the night. Hood’s songs tend to be more boozy, more visceral, more guttural, while Cooley’s vocals on songs like “72 (This Highway’s Mean)” are more countrified, twangier; Hood is the alt and Cooley is the country, and the pair is the perfect marriage of a genre that probably didn’t even have a name when they first started singing together two decades ago. The stage lineup is rounded out by pedal steel guitarist John Neff, bassist Shonna Tucker, keyboardist Jay Gonzalez and drummer Brad Morgan. The outsized, hard-partying sextet managed to go through at least two generous bottles of Jack Daniel’s during their nearly three-hour set. Was it a stage prop? An act? Nah. Hood spent the encore on his knees, finishing off half a bottle practically by himself. He left everything he had on that stage, including a few quarts of sweat, and he deserved a drink.
Before the show, I stood for a while chatting between a 21-year-old college kid from Richmond and a 49-year-old physics teacher who made the trip from Carroll County, Md., with his 17-year-old son. As the teacher told tales of the previous 15 times he’d seen the band, he realized those of us around him were all seeing them for the first time. “You’re in for a treat,” he told us. “One hell of a treat.” Hell of a treat indeed.
Perhaps the single greatest thing about Drive-By Truckers, at least as far as this recovering country-hating photographer is concerned? A completely relaxed photo policy: