Keeping a band together for two decades is no small achievement, but continuing to support a band through that kind of run isn’t easy either. How many bands can you say you’ve loved through your 20’s and 30’s…and even into your 50’s and 60’s? And I’m not talking about that one CD you played in your first car, or that song that got you laid for the first time, or the one that will always remind you of bringing your baby daughter home from the hospital. I’m talking about following a band through countless albums and incarnations. I’m talking about seeing a band every time they come to town…sometimes for consecutive nights. I’m talking about burying the sense of hurt and disappointment when one of your favorite members leaves. I’m talking about ignoring the flaws and focusing on the moments of genius, even on the most mediocre of albums. Drive-By Truckers are that band for me, and as I am reminded every time I attend a ‘rock show’, I am not alone. There are no casual fans at a Truckers show. There are always those of us who have been around since (and before) the Isbell days, and there are always those who are popping their ‘rock show’ cherry, but as a collective, we are all part of the Truckers’ family. Shonna and Neff have moved on, Isbell is better than ever as a solo artist, Craig left us way too soon, and Matt Patton is that cousin we’re not too sure about, but we’re still a family. Some of us pine for the old days when handles of Jack were consumed like water while we worked our way through the Southern Rock Opera, while others prefer the Muscle Shoals Sound of the more recent material, but we all know that as long as the parental unit of Cooley and Hood is preserved, the family is safe.
Despite what I might have written about their show in Boulder last year, the DBT family is safe. In fact, they might be tighter than they have ever been. My main complaint about that particular performance was that Cooley and Hood looked like they were in pain. The great thing about a Truckers show is that the band is usually having as much fun as those who came to see them. This was not the case last year. The only person who was having fun on that stage was an outsider…Matt Patton. I don’t think anyone was crying in their beer when Shonna left the band (although I was pretty disappointed), but at least Shonna knew her place on the stage. Patton tried to highjack the performance in Boulder, and in the process he became a giant distraction. I knew DBT would continue to be one of my favorite bands after that night, but I made the rash decision to stop going to the shows as long as he was a part of the band. But then English Oceans was released and it was their best album since The Dirty South…and Patton played no small part in that. The dream team of Hood, Cooley, Isbell and Morgan will be left to the history books, but the latest album is proof that Gonzalez and Patton are right where they belong. It’s almost as if they allowed the classic members of the band to finally get out of their heads and remember what it was like to rock.
Instead of booking multiple nights at smaller venues, the Truckers decided to play a single night at the Fillmore Auditorium this time around — marking a huge milestone in the band’s 18 year history as the largest headlining set they have ever performed. This decision had positive and negative ramifications. Having seen them 13 times over the past 10 years, it was exciting to be a part of this historical show, but it was also like attending a family reunion and not being able to visit with your favorite relatives. The Fillmore is just such a large space that it’s hard to get close to the band. No matter how far up in the crowd you are, there is a separation between entertainer and entertained — a separation that doesn’t exist at venues like the Bluebird Theater. That being said, they had no problem filling the space with that Muscle Shoals Sound.
The new album, and recent shows, have been much heavier on Cooley material and Saturday night was no exception. Stroker Ace opened the set with “Shit Shot Counts”, and from that point forward the two lead Truckers shared the set equally — passing vocal duties back-and-forth for every other song. These guys might not hit the bottle quite as much as they did back in the day, but what they have given up in the debauchery department has more than paid off in precision. Like I said before, they are tighter than they have ever been. Even Patton was a monster up there…having finally figured out that his place is not in the spotlight, he was actually fun to watch this time around.
Hood used to be pretty chatty in between songs, but he’s really let his songs do the talking in recent years. He gave a shout out to Willy Vlautin before “Pauline Hawkins” and to Malcolm Young before “Let There Be Rock”, but other than that, he stuck to a ‘less talk, more rock’ philosophy throughout the set — a set that was heavy on English Ocean material, but still managed to fit in a shitload of classics.
There is no doubt that Drive-By Truckers are a very different band than they were just a few years ago, and you can’t help but miss some of the family members during the classics, but unlike the Boulder show, there didn’t seem to be a hole on that stage anymore. The only person who will never be replaced is Craig Wayne Lieske, so it was fitting that the closing song was dedicated to him. “Grand Canyon” is the perfect tribute to the man who died way before his time. I will always miss talking to that guy at the shows and I’m guessing I will for many years to come.
The largest headlining show in DBT history was a raging success and I’m glad I could be a part of it, but I do hope that they go back to the small venue format next time around. I also hope they can hold it together for another 18 years. If they can do that, I will do my best to be a part of their next milestone, whatever that may be.
Shit Shots Count
When He’s Gone
Women Without Whiskey
Hearing Jimmy Loud
Ronnie and Neil
72 (This Highway’s Mean)
A Ghost To Most
Goode’s Field Road
Made Up English Oceans
Play It All Night Long
Hell No, I Ain’t Happy
Let There Be Rock