Drive-By Truckers – Alley Cats (Richmond, VA)
A few years ago, you could have caught the Drive-By Truckers playing a small bar in Richmond such as Humphrey J’s or Poe’s and gotten an excellent view of the band. At that time, the Truckers still played mostly country music, and more often than not they came close to outnumbering the audience.
Since those days, there have been a few lineup changes, as well as a subtle shift in the band’s musical direction. And a lot more people are paying attention now. This was evident when their show at the 500-seat venue Alley Katz completely sold out days in advance. By showtime, you couldn’t have gotten another person inside the club with a crowbar or a prayer.
When the house finally turned town the latest Outkast CD (played at the Truckers’ request) that was beating everybody into submission with its thundering bass lines, and the band took the stage and started into “Lookout Mountain”, the crowd exploded. Halfway into that first song, the house sound system died and the only thing that could be heard were three loud, lovely, thrashing guitars spitting out their anger at the injustice of the world. Fortunately, the sound came back before the song was over, and the band kept rocking like nothing had happened.
The first few selections showed what a powerhouse the band has become over time. Patterson Hood sang “Sinkhole”; Mike Cooley followed with “Marry Me”; then came Jason Isbell singing “Decoration Day”. Three different songwriters, each with his own unique style, each a formidable guitar player and also a singer — each could very well be successful fronting his own band. Add new bassist and harmony singer Shonna Tucker, and the rock-steady minimalist drumming of Brad Morgan, and you have a combination with seemingly unlimited potential.
The most valuable payer of the evening was Isbell. Playing a red hollowbody Gretsch, he ripped out leads and fills, played slide guitar, and caused many in the audience to wonder if they were seeing the next Eric Clapton, Duane Allman or Eddie Van Halen. He’s going to be famous, big-time famous, it’s just a matter of time.
The band played 31 songs, covering the majority of their recent breakthrough albums Southern Rock Opera and Decoration Day, as well as showcasing new material for their upcoming record, tentatively titled The Dirty South. The newer tunes, such as Cooley’s “Daddy’s Cup”, Isbell’s “Goddamn Lonely Love” and “Danko And Manuel”, and Hood’s “The Boys From Alabama”, suggest the next album just might be bigger than the two previous ones combined.
After three hours without a break, the Truckers were exhausted, and the audience had been rocked into a semi-comatose state. The band closed with “Shut Your Mouth (And Get Your Ass On The Plane”), “Greenville To Baton Rouge”, and the haunting “Angels And Fuselage” from Southern Rock Opera. As the house lights came back on to the decaying feedback moaning out of a tortured stack of amps, we all knew we had witnessed greatness.