Drive By Truckers at The Cannery Ballroom: Nashville, TN – June 18, 2010 (Concert Review)

June 19, 2010

“Rock and roll saved my life,” is an often mentioned sentiment of Patterson Hood’s that he reiterated before DBT launched into “Let There Be Rock,” near the end of their pre-encore set last night at the Cannery Ballroom in Nashville, TN. The live favorite, which recites concerts Hood spent his youth attending by road trips into Huntsville, Alabama was slightly reworked lyrically with a nod to Bruce Springsteen and the E Street band this go around, but otherwise was consistently the rocking crowd-pleaser it always is.

Rock and roll as a life-saver is really a theme of the new Truckers album, “The Big To Do.” As this is the tour promoting that album, there were several choice cuts from it on the set list last night. In the liner notes to that record, Hood writes about the escapism of the circus and the dreams that (at least in nostalgic mythology) led oddballs and outcasts to run off and join it in the old days. “I never really was all that into the circus as a kid, but I sure was into the Rock Show, which was sort of The Circus for kids of my generation,” he writes. To that affect, the Truckers hit the stage for their encore to the beat of simulated circus music, complete with Hood in a ring leader’s top hat–they led the encore set with “The Flying Wallendas,” a noir ballad that pays homage to the family of acclaimed trapeze artists who famously performed without a net (surviving at least one notable fall in the process).

The DBT rock show at the Cannery Ballroom last night was somewhat of a mixed bag, however. I’ve seen the Truckers live several times and Patterson Hood solo once before, and it has always been a great show–last night was no different in the general sense, but the acoustics at Nashville’s Cannery Ballroom and Mercy Lounge are a bit lacking. A wide open space with brick walls and concrete floors, the sound tends to bounce off of every surface and amplify the noise–this unfortunately tends to turn the range of sound into one dense layer of sludge at many points. The Truckers are often a loud band anyway–it really depends on the album and tour since half of their songs approach acoustic ballad and alt-country pitch and the other half are full on hard rockers–and the acoustics in the Cannery last night weren’t quite up for the Big To Do tour. Yet, I can’t complain fully because the band did the best they could do with the situation and there were enough unique and special moments to make up for the short-comings that were pretty much beyond their control. DBT is a meshed blend of rock and roll, country, and punk–these acoustics emphasized the punk aspect, so if you wanted loud and emotional southern rock drenched in punk, the Cannery fit the bill in that aspect. That thought doesn’t quite make up for the loss of clear vocals and melodic shifts, but I took what I could get.

Those moments that made up for the downside? The Decoys, for one. I’ve heard fans rave about the Decoys at past shows I’ve been to, and I was excited to see them. David Hood, Patterson Hood’s father, is in the Decoys and is famous in his own right as a consummate studio musician whose made a career out of backing famous musicians in the studio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, playing for artists as diverse and acclaimed as Etta James, Clarence Carter, the Staples Singers, Solomon Burke, Rod Stewart, Joe Cocker, J.J. Cale, etc. The Decoys play like the world’s best bar band, doing songs you know and love but doing them in a top-notch yet free-wheeling way. They opened with “Shot from the Saddle,” did “Pride and Joy,” “Melissa,” and the high point of their set for me was the classic Band song, “The Weight,” which they brought out Patterson and DBT bassist Shonna Tucker for. Later in the Trucker’s set the favor was returned when the band brought David out to join them in doing “Respect Yourself,” a Stax-era classic that sounded great last night.

It’s always fun just to see these folks interact on stage–they have a great give and take and stage rapport; though I’ve always been a bit partial to Patterson, the more I see them live the more others shine just as strong. Shonna is becoming the focal point on stage at many points–she plays bass with such stage-presence that not a punk riot grrl anywhere can hold a candle to her, and she works the stage with a level of energy that is captivating to watch. I love Cooley’s songs as well, and last night he seemed to seal the deal each time he was front and center. His “Birthday Boy,” and “Carl Perkin’s Cadillac” were high-points, but my favorite song of the night was his “Women Without Whiskey,” a song from “The Great Southern Rock Opera” that I’ve never paid as much attention to before but which felt like the best part of the set last night for some reason. All in all, there were some great choices and some great performances–there were some unexpected choices that worked well also (who would have thought that an early days goof off track like “Buttholeville” could rock like that?). Every DBT show I’ve ever seen has involved someone behind me yelling “play Lookout Mountain!” I’ve always wondered when this became a fan favorite, it’s never been one of my favorite songs, but somewhere along the way it must have become many people’s favorite. Well, this time the band either heeded the cries or just coincidentally made the night for the drunken frat boys behind me, because it was one of the closing numbers.

If you’ve never seen the Truckers, I suggest trying to make a Big To Do stop–hopefully at a venue you know and love. If you have to see a show at the Cannery only do so if no other venue is close, but if you go–take some ear plugs.

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