“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun.
It might be cliché to start a piece of writing about the Drive-By Truckers with a moment from the American South’s favorite novelist. Yes, DBT is certainly a band obsessed with the past – both literal and imagined – yet they are not stuck within it. Although they draw on tropes associated with “southern rock” (whatever that is), with three guitars and blues-driven extended solos, they are hardly a stockpile of hackneyed images of Confederate flags and “You might be a redneck if…” jokes. Certainly, they are interested in the concept of place: songs such as “Goode’s Field Road” and “Putting People on the Moon” are deeply rooted in specific geography, with complex tales of economic and social struggle. But all in all, the Drive-By Truckers are most interested in offering narratives from the folks who often don’t get to tell their side of the story – such as the recently laid-off protagonist in “Used to Be a Cop” or a surprisingly wise stripper in “Birthday Boy.”
But on top of all that, it’s a rock show, and perhaps a rock show about rock shows, with glory and sweat and release, somewhere between tent revival, exorcism, and three-ring circus. Maybe old Percy Shelley was right indeed: our sweetest songs are often our saddest thoughts.
I’ve been lucky to catch DBT over 20 times. This past weekend’s run of shows at Buster’s here in Lexington showcased a band firing on all cylinders, and rarely have I seen such an enthusiastic crowd, cheering the band to round the bases and slide headfirst into home plate with both grace and abandon. As folks who have been on the DBT ride for a few years now know, the Truckers have been through almost as many lineup changes as they have total albums. While some might still lament not hearing Jason Isbell-era anthems such as “Outfit” or “Dress Blues” (great songs, from a great songwriter with a new solo record due in a few weeks), the newest lineup of the band might be the best in terms of range. The rhythm section of Shonna Tucker and Brad Morgan can turn on a dime; the recent addition of keys wizard Jay Gonzalez adds a layer that connotes classic soul players such as Booker T or Spooner Oldham. John Neff, on pedal steel and guitar, can nail both a Stone-sy groove and that “boom-chicka” riff that made Johnny Cash a star. And, of course, there’s Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley: the professor and the court jester, the reedy tenor and the chest-thrum baritone, the two mainstays of the group who might go down in history as the Jagger/Richards of the American South.
Finish the review/photos after the break