Even when one of its members was known to have a substance-abuse problem (now-flourishing ex-singer/guitarist Jason Isbell), the Drive-by Truckers were always a well-greased machine, able to keep rolling along full-bore for 2-1/2 hours and make 98% of today's other First Avenue-headlining bands look like Kia Souls to their souped-up Mustang. Thursday’s incarnation at First Ave, though, might have been the greasiest. The Alabama-bred Southern rockers played a whopping three-hour, 31-song at a near nonstop pace.
With new bassist Mike Patton fitting right in with a wide grin and tight sound the whole night, the Truckers truly went on a tear Thursday. They didn't even stop playing the music when co-leader Patterson Hood spent about a minute cussing out an audience member down front near the end of the show. He called him a douchebag about 15 times and threatened to put a boot up his you-know-what.
“Well, well, well,” a bemused Mike Cooley said after his fellow bandleader set off on his tirade. “And I was just telling someone how we always have nice audiences here. Nothing ever seems to go wrong.”
Not much else did go wrong on Thursday, although the quintet got off to a lackluster start from the sold-out audience’s perspective by stacking the first hour of the show with songs from its new album, “English Oceans.” That meant that by the time the band got around to playing more fan favorites halfway through the show – 90 minutes in, mind you -- a lot of the fans had noticeably grown tired by then. Yes, you might call them wimps, but a few of the new songs did drag, too, including Cooley’s “Primer Coat” and Hood’s political commentary “The Part of Him.” The latter tune at least earned a few extra cheers after Hood made a verbal nod to Rep. Michele Bachmann in it (sample lyrics: “Was indifferent to honesty / His positions were pre-ordained to help conceal his vast disdain”).
Other newbies jumped out on stage more than they do on record, including Hood’s “Pauline Hawkins” – which the band lengthened into a rich, steady, extended jam – and Cooley’s “Natural Light,” one of several tunes to show off the growing influence of keyboardist/guitarist Jay Gonzalez’s boogie-woogie piano-plunking talent. “Natural Light” made a great pairing with “The Company I Keep” for the honky-tonkiest 10 minutes ever offered at a local DBT show.
Deeper in, the band veered more into its three-guitar pile-up territory, starting with an especially wicked “Puttin’ People on the Moon” and culminating in a heavy doseage of tunes from the band’s 2001 opus “Southern Rock Opera.” The Warren Zevon cover “Play It All Night Long” fit in nicely with the grunge-twang mix.
After tearing through many of their seediest and hardest-blasting tunes, though -- including the new “Sh—Shots Count” and their usual cover of Jim Carroll’s “People Who Died” -- the band stopped on a dime and delivered a slow-building, lush and surprisingly tender version of Hood’s “Grand Canyon,” which also ends the new record. Too bad a good chunk of the crowd couldn’t keep up with the band and had left by then. Wimps.
Here's the 31-song set list:
Made Up English Oceans / Lookout Mountain / Primer Coat / The Part of Him / Til He’s Dead or Rises / Pauline Hawkins / Natural Light / The Company I Keep / Get Downtown / When He’s Gone / Sounds Better in Songs / Puttin’ People on the Moon / Ghost to Most / Tornadoes / Hearing Jimmy Loud / Ronnie & Neil / First Air of Autumn / The Deeper In / Zip City / Play It All Night Long (Warren Zevon cover) / Women Without Whiskey / Hell No I Ain’t Happy ENCORE: Sh—Shots Count / Sinkhole / Uncle Frank / Steve McQueen / Birthday Boy / Girls Who Smoke / People Who Died (Jim Carroll cover) / Get Your Ass on the Plane / Grand Canyon