Whiskey, Johnny Cash, guns and damnation galore
ASPEN Drive-By Truckers embrace their native South in a big way. In their Aspen debut, Friday night at Belly Up, the group – based mostly in Athens, Ga., and led by singer-songwriters Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley, both Alabama natives – sang of whiskey, Johnny Cash, guns and damnation. With plenty of cussin’ thrown in.The Southern accent had a predictable effect: The dance floor was packed with young Southern gentlemen, gathering from around the region to drink Pabst tall boys and scream out such anthemic lines as “It’s the same old s–t that I ain’t gonna take off anyone” (from “Heathens”) and “I can’t die now ’cause I got another show to do.”
But Drive-By Truckers parted with Southern rock tradition Friday night in two significant ways.The first was artistic. The band was at the tail end of the Dirt Underneath tour, one which had the group sitting down, and Hood and Cooley trading in their electric guitars for acoustic ones. For any band playing in the Southern rock tradition, this is a big step. And especially so for the Truckers who have staked their reputation for playing loud shows built around a guitar assault that sometimes counts three instruments in the arsenal.
Before the band took the stage, a crew member laid out the evening’s ground rules: No cell phones, beepers or even conversation would be tolerated. The warning was as unnecessary as it would have been at a typical Truckers’ show. The band has expanded to a sextet for the tour, with veteran keyboardist Spooner Oldham on board. (Apart from playing with Bob Dylan, and regularly with Neil Young, Oldham was an associate of Hood’s father, bassist David Hood, when both were part of the famed Muscle Shoals Studio in Alabama.) And with John Neff recently added on pedal steel, the Truckers, even in the acoustic format, were a far cry from pin-drop quiet. There are some things you can’t take out of a group of Southerners, and one of those is the right to rock out. The result was a lovely but still forceful alt-country sound, reminiscent of the Jayhawks (though not at strong harmonically) or Neil Young’s recent acoustic-leaning efforts (though, of course, with a Southern twang, especially during Cooley’s songs).Just as striking was the band’s determination to distance itself from a certain aspect of Southern culture. Hood – the band’s soulful, charismatic focal point – came most alive on “Wallace,” a denunciation of segregationist Alabama governor George Wallace. “The devil’s got a Wallace sticker on the back of his car,” sang Hood.
Another show highlight – one of many – came when Hood had troubles with his guitar. He knew just what to do. Hood passed off his instrument to a bandmate, stood up for the first time of the night, and belted it out. It may have been against the rules of the Dirt Underneath tour, but it was a position Hood was most comfortable with.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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