Drive-By Truckers w/ Lydia Loveless: Dayton Masonic Center; Dayton, OH; Saturday, July 23, 2022
As Drive-By Truckers suggest in a couple of their album titles, they are an “American Band” paying tribute to the ongoing “Southern Rock Opera” taking place all around them over the course of 26 years, and 14 studio albums. Rooted in the partnership of singer-songwriters and guitarists Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley, the band has geographical roots in Athens, Georgia and Muscle Shoals, Alabama, while their musical influences range from Southern rock mainstays Lynyrd Skynyrd to rock storytellers like Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen, and Americana and outlaw country acts Hank Williams Jr. and Merle Haggard. While the band has had some commercial success over the decades, built largely around their steady touring schedule, these days they’ve been embraced for the left-leaning politics expressed in their Trump-era albums, American Band, The Unraveling, and The New OK, and may be best remembered by some as the band that Nashville favorite Jason Isbell was in before entering rehab.
With their new album Welcome 2 Club XIII just released last month, Drive-By Truckers brought their seasoned band to Dayton’s older theater and rare concert venue, housed in the Masonic Center on Saturday night. While the half-full auditorium offered a certain desirable intimacy with these veteran rockers, the fact that the smoke machine used to soften the show lighting set off the fire alarm near the end of the first song, “Shake and Pine” from the latest release, along with the minimal security staff (first concert I’ve attended in years where I wasn’t frisked or walked through a metal detector) suggests that the local organizers hadn’t considered all the issues that go with putting on a professional rock show. To the band’s credit, they were relatively non-plussed by the sudden noise interference and the flashing lights around the room, and soon after finishing the first song, and once quickly assured it was a false alarm, they counted off and kicked into “Birthday Boy” as if they weren’t going to let the loud buzzing alarm keep them from their appointed task. It was an impressive display of concentration and professionalism, but the audience shouted out with real relief when the noisy distraction was finally turned off, a good two thirds of the way through the second song of the evening.
In a recognizable pattern that continued throughout the night, Cooley and Hood led their able backing band steadily through a setlist that went all the way back to “Buttholeville,” a song from their 1998 debut Gangstabilly, with the two singer/songwriters trading lead roles back and forth seamlessly, often attending to songs from a particular era in close proximity. While their setlist appears to change from night to night, the duo are backed by crack support players who followed their lead without missing a beat, often starting the next song before the overtones of the previous number had gone quiet. Hood’s “The Righteous Path” from the 2008 release Brighter Than Creation Dark was followed by Cooley’s “Filthy and Fried” from American Band, but then from the previous release they played “Two Daughters and a Beautiful Wife,” “A Ghost to Most,” and “Goode’s Field Road.”
In a well-established pattern, Cooley often played lead guitar backing Hood’s compositions, and auxiliary player Jay Gonzalez added supportive keyboards when indicated and strapped on an electric guitar to share lead responsibilities often with Hood on Cooley’s songs. Gonzalez, who released a solo album of his own music last year, joined Drive-By Truckers in ’08, while newest member and bassist Matt Patton came on board in ’12, and long-time drummer Brad Morgan joined them in 1999. The band hit their stride by the time they got to “Goode’s Field Road,” with Hood telling the story of an over-extended business man at the end of his rope in spoken word poetry. The jam that ensued included a hot solo from Cooley, then trading licks with Gonzalez on his Hammond organ, and Hood and Cooley delivering high energy guitar work right to the end.
Cooley’s “First Air of Autumn” followed, revealing a bit of the country side in his songwriting, benefitting from Gonzalez’ Hammond swells, followed by Hood’s “Billy Ringo From the Dark” from the new one, Cooley adding slide guitar against the continued strong Hammond accents. Staying with their newest songs, Cooley’s “Every Single Storied Flameout,” brought in two roadies from the wings who added trumpet and sax, to the three-guitar attack on the fun rocker. “The Driver,” the long opening track on Welcome 2 Club XIII, is another of Hood’s moodier talking blues, which built to a full-out rocker with all three guitarists taking solos in the best Southern rock tradition of Skynyrd and company. “3 Dimes Down” led into another winning rocker, “Lookout Mountain,” the three guitarists and the enthusiastic audience reaching a peak in the performance. This was a show highlight, but the band was just half-way through their 26 song setlist. “Gravity’s Gone” worked nicely as bit of a palate cleanser, but “Sink Hole” restored the energy and rockin’ momentum, with Hood offering a long shout as he delivered the fast lyrics. “Uncle Frank” continued with more from that three-guitar attack.
While the band wasted little time chatting up the crowd, most of the time one song running immediately into the next, Hood paused to introduce the next song, “My Sweet Annette.” He explained that he’d written the song in Dayton in the parking lot of the venue they played the last time they performed here, 22 years and two months before. He remembered being in a bad place at the time, going through an ugly divorce, so he wrote this song about a woman left standing at the altar from the perspective of the “asshole who didn’t show up for the wedding.” In a fun juxtaposition, they followed it with Cooley’s “Marry Me,” before going all the way back to that awkwardly named song from their debut album, which included a fun drum breakdown from Morgan. That led into the evening’s one cover, Springsteen’s “State Trooper,” which included dramatic double leads, with guitarists Hood and Cooley trading licks.
Again, pulling the energy back from the edge just a bit, the slower rocker “Zip City” followed which built the three guitarists intensity back up, fueled by a solo from Gonzalez. Hood was in full talking-preacher mode as he exclaimed the gospel of “Let There Be Rock,” recalling that he “never saw Lynyrd Skynyrd” but managed to see “Ozzy Osbourne seven times” and adlibbed that they hadn’t played Dayton in 22 years and two months but would be back much sooner next time. The crowd shouted out the title here, and as appropriate the three guitarists delivered solos in true Skynyrd-mode. Cooley’s “Women Without Whiskey” the two singers joining in harmony on the “Take me piece by piece” line, and the crowd shouting out the telling lyric that “Whiskey is hard to beat.”
Hood led quickly into the opening chords of “Hell No, I Ain’t Happy,” and the primed and ready audience sang along as the trio of guitarists continued to serve up pleasing guitar solos, followed by Cooley’s fast rocker, “Shut Up and Get on the Plane,” which found the band delivering a big, dramatic, climax at the song’s ending. After a brief pause, Hood started the opening of the slow ballad, “Angels and Fuselage,” which included a harmonica solo from Cooley, and a bold drum drop piercing the near quiet at the appropriate time. While the band was still playing, Hood and Cooley put away their guitars, bowed arm in arm, and left the rhythm section of Morgan and bassist Patton alone on stage, Gonzalez’ portal on the left side of the stage was empty and dark. Patton played a bit of a bass solo and left the stage as well, while the drummer held the beat. Then quite unexpectedly, Gonzalez began to play the old school organ out on the right side of the stage that was part of the Masonic Hall. It would have been nice if there had been a spotlight to reveal his presence, but folk soon realized that he’d come out into the crowd to play the somewhat ancient instrument. Gonzalez played along with Morgan for a full minute, before the drummer bowed out, and the keyboardist played through the progression a couple more times before ending the night to loud cheers and applause.
Drive-By Truckers, here in their 26th year as a band, continue to deliver a strong, honest, hard rocking performance. Given the solid songwriting that Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley have revealed consistently over the years, it was easy to go in expecting a solid set. But honestly, their energy and grit and compelling musicianship delivered a great rock show, far exceeding expectations. Let’s hope they return soon.
Lydia Loveless, a Columbus native, who left Bloodshot Records to release her 2020 album Daughter independently, opened the show playing solo. Starting out on electric guitar, Loveless announced that she was her own roadie, and had moved back to Ohio, saying “people ask why I moved away, and then moved back,” admitting that she “broke up with my boyfriend, so all the songs tonight are going to be as sad as fuck.” As it were, she soldiered through an 8 song set, including four from her latest album. “Wringer” and “Say My Name” were delivered while she played basic guitar chords, her strong voice carrying her melodies and pointed lyrics. Moving to the piano she played “Love Is Not Enough,” and closed her set with “September.” There’s no doubt, that Loveless is a strong talented woman, and who would have benefitted with more support from a band or another player allowing her to focus on vocal delivery. But she showed real courage facing the audience alone, and sang with soulfulness that earned both the respect and appreciation of those in attendance.
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