This was the first time in five years that Drive-by Truckers have rolled into town, and fans responded with a sold out crowd. While they might have sold out anyway, having James McMurtry as an opening act couldn’t have hurt. Not having too much time to dawdle, McMurtry ripped through his songs like a machine. The set included “Just Us Kids,” “Fire Line Road” and “Hurricane Party” from his last album, as well “No More Buffalo” and “Too Long in the Wasteland,” among others. As some fans shouted requests, McMurtry smiled, responded with, “Some of you know what you want to hear, but you don’t know what you’re going to hear,” and jumped into the next song. Through most of the set, they were just a three piece (before being joined by a second guitarist), and the lean sound of the trio was a nice counterpoint to the huge sound of Drive-by Truckers’ six-man band. The only real disappointment with McMurtry’s set was that he just didn’t have enough time to stretch out.
Although it took a little while to get them on stage, when DBT got there, they unleashed a set that didn’t let up until they left, except for the slight break of couple of slower tunes in “Daddy Needs a Drink” and “Two Daughters and a Beautiful Wife,” two of the many songs played off their last album, “Brighter Than Creation’s Dark.” It’s a show that has virtually no gaps between songs, as one trucker, often Patterson Hood, jumps into another song, even as someone else might be changing instruments. That consistent level of energy is impressive, and if the sweaty mess of hair on Hood’s head is any indication, it’s not an easy thing to pull off either. One thing that has not been as consistent with DBT is their lineup, the biggest change recently was the loss of songwriter Jason Isbell, who left to pursue his own band Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit. That absence is definitely felt as Isbell penned some great songs in his tenure, and while bassist Shonna Tucker stepped up with a strong trio of songs on the last album, she only sang a couple songs this evening. With the show now being more of a two-songwriter affair, it seemed very odd to have Mike Cooley still hanging out on the side of the stage, especially since many of their last album’s strongest songs belong to Cooley (“Ghost to Most,” “3 Dimes Down” and “Checkout Time in Vegas” all showed up in the set) and because the only song I heard people cheering for during the encore was Cooley’s “Zip City.” The arrangement is presumably because they have three guitarists, Hood center stage, Cooley on one end and newcomer John Neff (whose pedal steel work has added new dimension to DBT’s sound) on the other in the spot Isbell vacated. It just felt a little unbalanced. Still, Hood is the leader of the band and does have the most songs, including, “Righteous Path,” “Let There Be Rock,” “Sink Hole,” and “Hell No, I Ain’t Happy,” all of which got big responses from the crowd.
There were a couple of odd moments in the show. The first was during, “Goode’s Field Road,” when Hood went into exposition mode during the song, speaking at length about what is essentially clear within the song (that the main character needs his death to not look like a suicide in order for his family to get paid on his insurance policy). Also, I’m assuming they have a tradition of each taking a chug off a bottle of Jack at the end of the show. I assume its tradition because when the time came, about half of them took the chug, but nobody seemed terribly happy about it. I guess it’s rock n’ roll to drink whiskey on stage but not if you feel like you have to.
Obviously, those are minor complaints. It was a very strong set. While there were some great songs that didn’t get played, they’re drawing from a very large catalog of quality material, and that has to be expected. In the end, seeing the Truckers live only reinforces the idea that they are a band that is serious about the music, serious about putting on a great show and serious about letting loose the rock. They were very warm to the crowd, and by the end of the night announced, “Next time we won’t wait five years to get back.” I’m sure they’ll be well received.