Drive-By Truckers at the House of Blues, Los Angeles, 3/15/2012
Are the Drive-By Truckers the best rock and roll band in America? They were last night at the House of Blues….
I’ve been following this band since I read a review of their album, Southern Rock Opera, in No Depression Magazine, back in whatever year that was. I’ve got a few of their albums, including Live at Austin City Limits, and their dvd, Secret to a Happy Ending, but I had never seen them live before. I’ve made various complaints about the House of Blues in the past, but it’s a good place to see a band like the Truckers, where you can see the show on your feet and feel the wind from the amplifiers and drum skins. The band was clearly revved up for this show on the Sunset Strip and held nothing back from first note to last.
The Truckers crowd is a cool mix of oddballs – oddball bikers, oddball cowboys, oddball hippies, dopers, geeks and nerds. Lots of hefty folks too – Drive-By Truckers fans like to eat. And hey, it looked like there was more than a few actual truckers in the audience. Good smelling herb in the air too, and a spirit reminiscent of the early Seventies. And if you’re reading this, friend, thanks for the turn-on…..
Opening act, Robert Ellis is a very talented Houston songwriter with a hot band. His set went down good, and he’s well worth checking out at a Honky Tonk near you. He and his band were well received by the Truckers’ fans. Then they cleared their equipment away and the Drive-By Truckers wasted no time launching into a full on rock show.
The Truckers opened with The Fourth Day of My Drinking and it was clear to everyone that they were in the right place to be on a Thursday night in Los Angeles, California. They started out rocking so hard that I wondered where they were going to take it, in terms of pacing a show. They just kept upping the anty until the music was at an insane level two hours later. They pulled out acoustic guitars a few times, but it was really a hard rock show all the way.
Former bassist Shonna Tucker has left the band and the new guy, Matt Patton, from the Dexateens, is a high energy thumper who had a big grin on his face all the way through the show. This is called making a joyful noise. Patterson Hood never played his trademark Les Paul Gold Top, but played an S.G. on every song except the few acoustic numbers. The Stroker Ace played a few different guitars and was in great form throughout. I’m a big fan of Jason Isbell and wish he was still in the band, but lead guitarist, John Neff, is truly a secret weapon, plays beautiful pedal steel, and never plays a bad note. I never heard a single coil pick-up on this night. This was humbucker territory and at times was thunderous. Keyboard player, Jay Gonzales, is another secret weapon, always staying in the background playing fills that are pure genious. Drummer, Brad Morgan, had a giant bass drum behind him that looked like a prop or stage decoration, except when he decided to slam it with his elbow or reach over his head and whack it with a stick. Making a joyful noise….
Early in the show Patterson Hood took a swipe at Alabama (his home state) and Mississippi voting for “that fucker” Rick Santorum in the Republican Primary. And when he said, “Fuck Gingritch and Romney, too!” I didn’t see anyone disagreeing. The songs are all proletarian and blue collar, as real as sweat and blood, and the reason this band is great. Even without Jason Isbell’s great songs their repertoir stands with the best rock and roll bands in history, and I’ll stand on Jagger and Richards hotel room coffee table in my muddy work boots and say that. You couldn’t fault the playlist for this show. They left out a couple of my favorites, but turned me on to a few songs that I was not Familiar with. They did a cover of Warren Zevon’s Sweet Home Alabama, inserting a verse of It Ain’t That Pretty At All that fit right in with their own tunes, and was a highlight of the show.
They closed out the show with Hell No I Ain’t Happy and took quite a long break with the crowd shouting for an encore the whole time. Then they came out with Booker T. and launched into a hard rock version of Green Onions. Yeah, Booker T. man!. Booker T. stayed with them for the whole six song encore which, for me, was one of the greatest things I’ve experienced in 43 years of rock concerts. The encore ended with a stretched out version of Angels and Fuselage, a slow song from Southern Rock Opera about the plane crash that killed Ronnie Van Zandt and members of Lynard Skynard, proving to all that a slow song can be heavey as hell. They finished by, one by one, leaning their guitars against their amps and leaving them feeding back, until the stage was empty but the music was still howling. What a din! Then the feedback faded out, the lights came up, and the oddballs of Los Angeles staggered off towards the neon lights of the Sunset Strip to make their way back to apartments full of used books, 33 1/3 rpm L.P.s, beat up guitars, cheap beer and half empty bottles of Jack Daniels. Tomorrow’s a work day, and they’ll go to work with bleary eyes, ringing ears and shit eatin’ grins on their faces. The Truckers will be headed down the road to another joint to prove it all over again…….
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