Drive-By Truckers – Melkweg (Amsterdam, Netherlands)
The signs were ever-so-slightly ominous: Take a raucous, fun-loving, five-piece band from the American South and dump them smack-dab into the crazed den of debauchery that occasionally passes as the city of Amsterdam, home of “anything goes” and unbridled hedonistic tendencies. Add the fact that, merely three hours prior, one of Holland’s leading political figures had been assassinated in cold blood, and you have the makings for a surreal night out. Would this, to paraphrase the title of the Drive-By Truckers’ live album, become an Amsterdam Ass Whuppin’?
After an opening set full of wit and energy by Texas band Jasper Stone, the Truckers take to the stage. With their double-disc epic Southern Rock Opera, the band seem to have gained a solid, albeit small, following among the Dutch, keen admirers of roots-based music. The feeling appears to be mutual; frontman Patterson Hood thanks the audience on several occasions for “the best week we’ve ever had. We’ve been walking around with shit-eating grins on our faces since we got off the plane.”
The Truckers deliver their thanks with more than words, launching into a full-frontal set of raucous vitality. On the surface, their songs seem to be all about partying hard, knocking back a few cold ones with some buddies, and driving to the town’s arena to catch a healthy dose of good-time rock ‘n’ roll. Scratch beneath that surface, however, and Hood’s lyrics openly deal with stereotypes and cliche-ridden ignorance.
Hood illustrates the misconceptions about the South with a story of how his great-great-grandfather was drafted into the Confederate Army against his will. “The Southern Thing” is the Truckers’ vitriolic rebuke of history as we know it, a history that too often simply divides people into Good Guys and Bad Guys. “Bulldozers And Dirt”, with its tasteful a cappella harmonies, is a tongue-in-cheek view of a modern-day trailer park relationship, replete with incestuous tendencies.
Clearly enjoying themselves, the Truckers make their way through a chugging and churning live set. The crowd gets treated to a three-guitar assault, with occasional theatrical elements straight out of a refried ’70s boogie-rock show.
Yet the band isn’t afraid to shift gears when necessary. A handful of new songs, among them the melodic “My Sweet America”, draw on more traditional country influences, suggesting the band’s next record may be less rock-oriented. And “The Living Bubba”, from their 1998 debut Gangstabilly and dedicated to late Atlantan Greg Smalley (founder of the Bubbapalooza festival and a victim of the AIDS epidemic), is a poignant reminder of how straight-to-the-heart Hood’s lyrics can be.