Review: Drive By Truckers at the McDonald


Drive By Truckers tend to stir my emotions at a deep level, sometimes turning me on and just as often, pissing me off. These are southern boys, and one girl, Shonna Tucker, the bass player who was hot. The concert was a mix of their older tunes that are more rock and their newest album, Go Go Boots, that some reviewers call country/soul, whatever that is.

Left to right: Jay Gonzalez, John Neff, Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley, Shonna Tucker, Brad Morgan

I get the pissed off feeling when the lyrics hit too close to my trailer trash roots, reminding of my sarcastic and cynical Missouri-born father and his superior southern white boy bigotry. Daddy and I didn’t really agree on much, but I digress. For example, “Never Gonna Change” (from Dirty South) lyrics go straight to my anger button. The tune is a tribute to growing up in a mean, violent scene where “Daddy used to empty out his shotgun shells and fill ‘em full of black-eyed peas. He’d aim real low and tear out your ankles or rip out your knees.” I couldn’t hear the lyrics well at the concert, but liked the country rock style and the catchy refrain “We ain’t never gonna change. We ain’t doing nothing wrong” supported by twanging electric guitar strains. Then I looked up the lyrics and came away feeling like maybe these boys need Jesus, real bad.

My companion sang along when they played “Hell No I Ain’t Happy” from their Decoration Day CD. I’m reluctant to affirm feeling unhappy but since he so obviously enjoyed it, I gave it another listen. Everybody in the band sings but the main vocalist is Patterson Hood. He’s got a twangy, sort of rougher sounding Neil Young voice and his range is somewhat limited. So he doesn’t win as a vocalist, but the guy is a hell of a song writer. It turns out the song is about how being on the road all the time sucks. Suddenly, I’m a little more sympathetic for the song. It’s a gutsy, realistic expression of life on the road with the 6 member band. “Hell no I ain’t happy, gonna be a long while for I’m back your way” is a plaintive, wailing line followed up by a wild guitar riff that underscores the angry acceptance that this is the life when the band is on tour. “Got your fine ass on the back of my lids” evokes the loneliness of being away and it isn’t all just a beer filled party.

Some of the newer songs, off the Go Go Boots album, are really sweet. Their cover of “Everybody Needs Love” (by Eddy Hinton) is wonderful. This tune qualifies as romantic, which is saying something when you consider the band seems to focus more on the darker, underbelly of life in the rural south. “Mercy Buckets” is about loyalty and friendship. “When you’re down and out, I’ll pick you up down at the station. Give your hard times some vacation” resonates with me. I dream of running away from my family and letting someone else take care of me. Oh wait, that is why I run to a certain someone’s house whenever I can.

There’s one tune with the catchy title of “Assholes” that’s somewhat amusing. The tempo is slow and feels like a country waltz, although I can’t see myself slow dancing to a tune that repeats the word assholes over and over again. They’re complaining about a relationship that’s gone bad, like a former music manager. “Then you say that we’re the assholes, ‘cause we bitched about hassles, while you’re sleeping in your castles”; poetry by Patterson Hood again. Finishes up with a sentiment I’m sure lots of guys share, “When you say that we’re all assholes, guess it’d be useless to deny, I’m just saying you’re the reason why.” These great, in your face lyrics floating along on a sea song melody, well, made me grin.

They played one tune at the McDonald that really rocked my world. Sadly, I can’t remember enough of the lyrics to figure out what the song title is and countless hours of listening to YouTube videos didn’t get me any answers. The lyrics are kind of superfluous to the music, though. This one showed off how tight this band can be. Lap steel, the Hammond organ and the lead guitar solos were mesmerizing. Through it all, the drummer was pounding this big bass guitar with one hand that sat above and behind him with a driving beat that reached into my soul. The other hand was dancing all over the rest of the drum set, laying layers of rhythm that danced in out of the bass line, absolutely amazing.

Finally, the Truckers came back out for an encore and ended up playing almost as long as the first set! It’s usual for shows at the McDonald to wind up around 10:30 or 11:00, especially on a Wednesday night. Not these guys. We were treated to another 25 minutes of gutsy Drive By Truckers sound. Walking back to the car, I felt deeply satisfied by the performance, but I left wound up like a spring from all that great sound. I didn’t let my guy get much sleep that night.

–Lee Thompson

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