Rock and Roll Means Well Concert Review

November 2, 2008

It’s been a good year to catch a concert as great musicians all over the popular music spectrum have traveled around the country. Nine Inch Nails has been coast to coast with their “Lights in the Sky” tour promoting their last three albums, Bruce Springsteen and Tom Waits have both toured this year; in hip hop Lil Wayne and Lupe Fiasco headlined a few gigs together and though they differ drastically in style and substance both are at the top as far as skill in their field goes. Kanye West elevated hip hop shows to a more theatrical level with his current tour and countless classic rock bands like AC/DC have hit the road once more.

The show I was most surprised to hear about was “Rock and Roll Means Well,” a pairing of two of my favorite current bands, the Drive by Truckers and the Hold Steady. I’ve raved about both bands multiple times on this site, and reported the announcement of the show about a month ago when I first heard of it. Well, the tour finally kicked off on October 30th in Louisville, Ky. It’s only going to last about a month, ending up in the New York area by the end of November. DBT have been touring for their 2008 “The Home Front Tour” in promotion of their latest album Brighter Than Creation’s Dark and the Hold Steady have been touring in promotion of their new album Stay Positive. I caught a show of DBT’s for “The Home Front” in a small club in Huntsville, Alabama and it was terrific, but where it focused primarily on the new album, during this new tour DBT is dragging out a wide variety of material, much of it harking back to their earliest songs. DBT founder and singer Patterson Hood promises a lot of surprises and stated that this tour was a break from their other tour and the focus is on just playing the best and wildest rock show they can play.

On Halloween night “Rock and Roll Means Well” arrived in Nashville, Tennessee. I was lucky enough to be able to get tickets and make the drive into town to catch it and I think it’s going to be the concert tour of the year, so if they’re coming anywhere near you, make sure to go if at all possible. After an opening act by Bobby Bare Jr., The Hold Steady took the stage in full Halloween garb, dressed as America’s Founding Fathers. They kicked things off with the opening track from …Positive, “Constructive Summer,” and for an hour and a half they ran through great song after great song: “Sequestered in Memphis,” “Navy Sheets,” “Hey Sapphire,” and most of the new album but past albums were in full display as well. After hearing songs from Separation Sunday like “Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night” I’ve dug it out and listened to it several times since the show and I now like it as much as my favorite HS album Boys and Girls in America. Overall a great set, and although most of the audience seemed to be there for DBT (with HS mainly being a “northern” or “Midwest” favored band and the show being much closer to DBT’s Alabama I guess that was to be expected), the crowd finally began to adequately become involved. All of the background vocals and “whoah’s” coming from the crowd amps the HS songs, they’re built on “sing-along choruses.” Craig Finn played the perfect front man, approaching us like he was telling us stories and preaching to us about rock and roll. He carries a stage with unabashed, geeky abandon. The entire band seemed to gain energy as the show progressed until they were all bouncing with creativity by the closing number. My only disappointment was that they didn’t break out “How a Resurrection Really Feels,” “Both Crosses,” or “Crucifixion Cruise,” any one of which would’ve been perfect for the “church of Country Music and Rock n’ Roll” that is the Ryman Auditorium.

The Drive by Truckers took the stage about thirty minutes later and it became obvious that this was who most of the audience came to see. Pattersoon Hood did the same great job he always does of introducing and bridging the songs with his conversation that always reveals autobiographical tidbits. Before launching into “Bulldozers and Dirt,“ he let us know that it was the first song he ever wrote that he thought was any good. “Puttin’ People on the Moon” seemed even more angry than usual, and it was set to a wild light show. Shonna did excellent with “I’m Sorry Huston,” and Mike Cooley rocked the entire building with “Where the Devil Won’t Stay,” and “Marry Me,” the latter of which contains the tour-naming line, “Rock and roll means well but can’t help telling young boys lies.” During an encore the band blasted out covers of Van Halen’s “Ain’t Talkin ‘Bout Love,” and Neil Young’s “Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World,” and Pattersoon added an ending section that wasn’t in Young’s original version in which he chanted “give change a chance,” which is as explicitly political I’ve seen him get from stage (other than some of the lines in “Puttin’ People on the Moon” and other such songs).

Get tickets while you can. In a recent interview Patterson Hood noted that the next few weeks of the tour could go either way depending on the mood of both bands in the aftermath of the election. If there’s an Obama victory Hood noted that the shows would likely feel much more like a celebratory experience…if things go the other way, he said it might be one “angry m******g show.”

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One Response to “Rock and Roll Means Well Concert Review”

  1. Tom Clancy said

    Just saw the reverse in Boston (DBT -> THS), but now you’ve somehow made me feel like I missed out on something: you got Bobby Bare Jr. as well? Wow.

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