Drive-By Truckers – Variety Playhouse

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I last saw DBT during their “Dirty South” tour in 2004.  It was an energetic and rocking evening, blessed with recent material from a string of three great albums.

Since then, they’ve released two average-at-best albums and changed the band’s lineup somewhat.  Now they’re back to touring in support of their upcoming release, “The Big To-Do.”  The Truckers are an experienced road band.  They never disappear for long, and they have a dedicated fan base as evidenced by two sold-out shows at Atlanta’s Variety Playhouse.  I attended the first.

I met a friend and his wife for a burger at Brewhouse Cafe, a proven and reliable pit-stop for a hamburger and beer before a show.   This was no exception, despite a rather disappointing selection of pale ales on tap.

We arrived to find many gathered in the lobby, drinking beers.  This was likely due to the opening act, David Barbe & The Quick Hooks, who were already into their set.  Barbe is the DBT’s producer, and his band included guitarist John Neff and drummer Brad Morgan from DBT, as well as two other musicians.  Unfortunately, the songs were rather plodding, and despite his enthusiasm for the moment, Barbe’s voice is an off-putting whine.  But better things were to come.

Drive-By Truckers

After a half hour break, DBT took the stage, a shared bottle of Jack Daniels and various beers in tow.  The set list started mainly with new songs from their forthcoming CD, but the lyrics were lost to me as the sound up front wasn’t kind on the vocals.  Even Patterson Hood though the riffs and attitude spoke of good songs to shortly be heard, it’s inevitably their keenly observant lyrics on Southern life that make or break their songs. 

Patterson Hood remains the front man for the band, full of “damn the system” attitude, which is where he writes from when he’s at his best.  When he’s  not singing or playing a lead, he checks out the crowdMike Cooley with an evident appreciation  for the life he has chosen for himself.  

Co-founder Mike Cooley is as much a fan favorite due to his intellectually redneck songs as his distinctive guitar playing mannerisms.  Shonna Tucker, the bassist, also sang several songs.   She did not appear entirely comfortable taking the lead, and her microphone didn’t help her relatively soft voice compete with the three raging guitars of her bandmates.

John Neff, a relatively stoic presence, added some nice slide guitar, but also alternates leads with Cooley.  He also played pedal steel on several songs, to as good effect as pedal steel can hope to be heard.  Newcomer Jay Gonzalez added keyboard  flourishes which added colorful tones on slower songs.John Neff  But overall, DBT is a band built to rock, and they did just that, loudly.

The band covered many of their older songs, though now with a large back catalog from which to choose, many good songs, like “Daddy’s Cup,” were skipped.  However, standouts included “The Living Bubba” and “18 Wheels of Love” Jay Gonzalez from Gangstabilly, “Ronnie and Neal” and “Women Without Whiskey” from Southern Rock Opera, “Sinkhole” and “Marry Me” from Decoration Day, “Tornadoes” and “Lookout Mountain” from The Dirty South, “Three Dimes Down” and “Self Destructive Zones” from Brighter than Creation’s Dark,  “Play it All Night Long”  from The Fine Print, and a rocking cover, of course, of Neil Young’s “Rocking in theCooley's Mini-bar Free World.”  The beer-enabled crowd was responsive throughout, singing along with many of the songs, more than several pounding out each song with upraised fists.

The band’s main set lasted over two hours, after which Patterson Hood looked exhausted as he left the stage without a wave.  About 15 minutes later, Hood showed no wear as they returned for a seven song encore, the best of which was “Lookout Mountain.”  It might be said that he gave all he could give as afterwards, Hood again hurried off, clearly Cooley & Hoodworn out.  Cooley, with a rock star thin frame and attitude born for long nights, waved to the crowd, bottle of bourbon in hand.


Overall, it was a loaded 3 hour performance for a $25 ticket, and a very late night.

Why the house lights are kept low.

Additional concert photos are available by clicking ---> HERE.

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